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Investigation turns to Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center's chiefs of staff

Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 6:13 PM
Last updated Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 1:07 AM
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The House Committee on Veterans Affairs has expanded its investigation into the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center to look more closely into two chiefs of staff, one of whom recently told the board’s chairman that he made supervisors aware of problems in the hospital’s gastrointestinal program years before they became public.

Rep. Jeff Miller (center), the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affair, talks to Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center director Bob Hamilton and Chief of Staff Michael Spencer during a Jan. 6 congressional oversight visit to Augusta.  SPECIAL
Rep. Jeff Miller (center), the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affair, talks to Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center director Bob Hamilton and Chief of Staff Michael Spencer during a Jan. 6 congressional oversight visit to Augusta.

Dr. Michael Spencer, the chief of staff at the Augusta VA, told Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., during a congressional oversight visit Jan. 6 that he had notified supervisors of certain issues but no actions were taken.

In light of the information, which was revealed in a letter sent this week to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Miller has requested a copy of all minutes from meetings involving Spencer; Dr. Luke Stapleton, the former chief of staff; and Richard “Toby” Rose, the associate director.

The committee requested in September a copy of all performance reviews, pay bonuses and disciplinary actions filed since 2007 for the administration of former Director Rebecca Wiley. Parts of the request are just now being delivered.

“Given the nature of the ongoing investigation, we request delivery within 30 days of this letter,” Miller wrote Monday after cautioning VA staffers against destroying, modifying or moving any records.

The committee’s most recent request covers all meetings involving Spencer, Stapleton and Rose dating back to 2006, along with any e-mails or reports that Spencer kept to document the problems he encountered, the supervisors he notified and any corrective actions that were taken.

The letter only states that Spencer encountered problems at least 10 years ago. Pete Scovill, a spokesman for the Augusta VA, did not elaborate on the problems, but said the “medical center will provide all appropriate material to (Shinseki) as requested.”

Before becoming chief of staff in 2012, Spencer served as the head of primary care, the department in which the hospital’s delay of 5,100 gastrointestinal consultations reportedly began.

Between 2011 and July 2012, three cancer patients died and the conditions of four veterans worsened after the management failed to schedule primary physicians’ referrals for 4,500 patients in need of screening, surveillance and diagnostic endoscopies, according to VA reports.

An online newsletter for the Augusta VA dated Aug. 29, 2010, states that Stapleton, 61, became the chief of staff on July 5, 2010.

Today, the VA’s Web site lists him as an oncology doctor and says the former Army colonel of 26 years completed his residency at Fort Gordon’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center after graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1980.

Records kept by the state Composite Medical Board show that Spencer, 55, was licensed June 11, 1987, after graduating from the Medical College of Georgia in 1984.


The American Legion’s System Worth Saving town hall meeting at Post 205 on Highland Avenue in Augusta was canceled Wednesday.

Spokesman Marty Callaghan the said advocacy group has not decided whether it will reschedule the meeting for local veterans wishing to discuss the quality of care at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

Each year, the System Worth Saving Task Force members conduct visits to about 15 VA medical centers across the country to evaluate the quality of health care being provided to military veterans.

Feedback from these town hall meetings is used by the American Legion to formulate questions and discussion topics with administrators, medical staffers and patients at the medical centers.

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corgimom 01/29/14 - 08:19 pm
They are looking for a

They are looking for a scapegoat, and the only one to blame for this is Congress, who won't appropriate the amount of money needed to provide adequate care.

Nobody can provide good care to anybody without money for staff and equipment.

seenitB4 01/30/14 - 07:30 am
I agree corgi with this

the only one to blame for this is Congress, who won't appropriate the amount of money needed to provide adequate care.

Junket103 01/30/14 - 07:57 am
Corgi Misses the Point

While corgimom is partially correct about overall funding, what is alleged in the investigation is possible mismanagement, failure to respond or properly monitor medical care in a timely manner. The question is who in the VA knew what was going on? If they knew and did nothing or failed to act in a timely manner, that is a catastrophic failure at the local level. If they knew the scope of the problem and we're asking for help early in the process then the spotlight is on regional and national officials. What usually happens in bureaucracies is regional and national officials will claim ignorance, primarily because they don't really want to know. Local officials generally know or mid level officials know, but they are afraid to speak up for fear of rocking the boat or they just don't care. A thorough investigation is needed to expose who in the chain knew what was happening and did they do anything to stop it or at a minimum report it. If they didn't then criminal or civil charges should be brought.

JimS 01/30/14 - 09:18 am
Millers phony support continues

Congress thus Country, Undermine Veterans
There's only one branch of Government, Federal and States, consistently doing for not only us Veterans' but also the Military personal and their Families, and without the control of the Countries purse strings, combining the Cabinet agencies abilities to help where possible with their budgets and charged responsibilities. That's the whole Executive branch under President Obama. Doing what Congress, State legislatures, in passing feel patriotic support bills that are unfunded, and the people represented by them and served by the Military refuse to do, Sacrifice, especially the wealthy!

The Abandoning of the missions and the purposes of, along with the once
again promises to the Afghan people, first time was after the
Afghan/Soviet long war, quickly after 9/11, with the Lives still being lost, those serving still being wounded!!! Giving rise to, with the rhetoric from within, not a victory over, and spread of al Qaeda type ideology criminal terrorism!!!

The Cost of War, All Costs, the Responsibility of Those Served

"12 years also is a long time. We now have a lifetime responsibility
to a generation of service members, veterans and their families." Dr. Jonathan Woodson 11 Sep. 2013: 'With 9/11 Came Lifetime Responsibility'

Where were the 'offsets' to federal spending as the rubber stamping, more then the off the books wars with no-bid contracts, was going on and claiming 'patriotism' for?

Decades, and wars of, of under funding the VA. With these two recent
wars little was done for the Veterans of as well as the Military
personal, i.e. Walter Reed as one example, and their Families, in the
first years of both under the previous executive branch and those
congresses. Rubber stamped war costs, off the books and on the countries
credit card with no bid private contracts, including building an
expensive private merc army! That's not adding in all the other rubber
stamped costs of the bush administration policy wants, especially in the
first six years of!

Rachel Maddow: "We got a huge round of tax cuts in
this country a few weeks before 9/11. Once 9/11 happened and we invaded
Afghanistan, we kept the tax cuts anyway.
How did we think we were going to pay for that war? Did we think it was

Then, when we started a second simultaneous war in another country, we
gave ourselves a second huge round of tax cuts. After that second war
started. The wars, I guess, we thought would be free, don`t worry about
it, civilians. Go about your business." 23 May 2013

"If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth
our treasure, too" "not just in the abstract, but in the form of a
specific ante by every American." -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

David (CBS News) Martin: "Then there's the financial cost. To date,
the Pentagon has spent more than $500 billion on the war in Afghanistan.
A defense spending bill the Senate is expected to pass this week would
add another $80 billion to that." 17 December 2013

That's not counting those decades to come results from costs and the once again ignored, by those served, issues!

The wars, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq, have yet been paid for. Nor
especially the now decades to come, DeJa-Vu all over again, the of
results for those sent, over and over, and the continuing under funding
the Peoples Responsibility, the Veterans Administration charged with
much more then just caring for the wounded, as those served ignore most
of those results from!!

'Cost of War' site {real and estimated costs}: "Total
US federal spending associated with the Iraq war has been $1.7 trillion
through FY2013. In addition, future health and disability payments for
veterans will total $590 billion and interest accrued to pay for the war
will add up to $3.9 trillion." 19 March 2013 © 2011 Watson Institute, Brown University

USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

teaparty 01/30/14 - 10:24 am
"Rachel Maddow: "We got a

"Rachel Maddow: "We got a huge round of tax cuts in
this country a few weeks before 9/11. Once 9/11 happened and we invaded
Afghanistan, we kept the tax cuts anyway."
Jims, what you and Rachel missed is the tax cuts stimulated the economy and TAX REVENUE WENT UP. Just as it did when JFK and Reagan lowered taxes. Liberals usually get it wrong very time.

Scratch 01/30/14 - 10:51 am
People do well what the boss checks

Investigators are finally getting to the source of the issue at the Norwood VA. As a lifelong healthcare administrator, I can tell you that this problem would not exist if the physicians and managers in charge were doing their jobs. Their jobs are to set up effective (if not efficient) systems, monitor results, and determine where action is necessary to improve. Res ipsa loquitur comes to mind. "The thing speaks for itself." A backlog like this in the GI service does not happen in the absence of management neglect. It is a system failure that should have been detected early and repaired immediately. Claiming resource deficiencies is disingenuous at best.

corgimom 01/30/14 - 12:19 pm
The VA has been backed up for

The VA has been backed up for years, it happens all across the country, and that's been known for many years now.

The life span of the veterans have increased, and that wasn't taken into account when the hospitals were planned and funded. Back when it started, men usually only lived to about 65 or so, now it's not unusual for men to live to their 80's and 90's.

The administrators have absolutely no control over funding and absolutely no control over how many veterans demand services, unlike other hospitals. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Scratch 01/30/14 - 01:55 pm
Strategic Planning

As a past administrator of a gov't medical center, I can tell you, CG, that you are not correct. DoD and VA planners have been well aware of just the demographics you point out. Funding is appropriated on many different factors, with great weight placed on recent utilization and workload. The Augusta VA has long since had agreements with DD Eisenhower Army Med Ctr at Ft. Gordon for various services. If a backlog in GI was experienced, DDEAMC could have been asked to assist years ago. Apparently that step was not taken until recently, according to the AC article. There were many other steps that could have been taken to alleviate the backlog. Had the principals identified the problem and taken action before there were thousands of backlogged referrals, there would have been no need for additional professional or financial resources.

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