Health Care

More | | | Editor

Accountability demands grow as more VA patients complain of bad care

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 5:16 PM
Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 2:04 AM
  • Follow Latest News

Richard Johnson tried seven times in three years to speak to Rebecca Wiley’s administration about issues with his care at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Back | Next
Vietnam War veteran Richard Johnson looks through some of his medical records as he talks about the difficulty he has getting treatment for his many medical issues.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Vietnam War veteran Richard Johnson looks through some of his medical records as he talks about the difficulty he has getting treatment for his many medical issues.

Each time the retired Air Force sergeant called or visited the director’s top-floor suite at the downtown Augusta hospital, he could not get past the receptionist.

The latest complaint the disabled veteran wanted addressed was in 2011 after medical records confirmed that his primary physician’s request for a colonoscopy was delayed two months, the procedure was botched because of bad prep work and a follow-up appointment with a private doctor found six polyps in his colon.

“I can’t tell you if she is white, black, tall, short, thin or fat,” said Johnson, 66, who served from 1968-72 in Vietnam. “Mrs. Wiley and much of her staff were not available to veterans.”

Demands for accountability continue to grow in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ investigation into three cancer patients’ deaths and 5,100 others whose endoscopies were delayed from 2011 to 2012 at the Augusta VA.

Wiley voluntarily retired in October 2013 and The Augusta Chronicle revealed this week that her chief of staff, Dr. Luke Stapleton, resigned from the position March 1, 2013, under the threat of discipline, but still remains on the hospital’s payroll as a hematologist. According to online records, Stapleton became chief of staff on June 5, 2010, and made $278,267 in 2012.

Stapleton was chief of staff when Johnson’s primary physician first requested that his patient receive a surveillance colonoscopy on July 28, 2011, because of a “family history of malignant neoplasm,” a medical term known more commonly as a tumor, according to a VA consultation sheet.

Johnson said his mother had colon cancer and, after surgery, lived five years.

Johnson was originally scheduled to have a colonoscopy on Aug. 17, but because of “poor prep,” the procedure was terminated and the veteran had to wait an additional month before the VA could perform the operation Sept. 15, 2011, documents state.

“ ‘I have a very troublesome colon,’ ” Johnson said he recalled telling the gastroenterologist. “ ‘I need two to three days to prep.’ ”

Medical records show that after he was partially sedated, the scope was advanced only to the “hepatic flexure,” a sharp bend between the ascending and the transverse colon.

At that point, Johnson said, he remembers hearing the doctor saying “blockage” and then attempting five times to advance the scope until Johnson complained he could feel the pressure and told the doctor to stop, that he was hurting.

“The colon was dilated and very difficult to advance further despite numerous attempts, multiple position changes and ample pressure,” the colonoscopy’s final report stated. “No obvious masses, but small lesions may have been missed.”

After the procedure, the VA recommended Johnson get a barium enema X-ray to show the rest of the colon and, if results were normal, to repeat the colonoscopy in three to five years.

Pete Scovill, spokesman for the Augusta VA, did not return phone messages Wednesday seeking comment.

“It’s now been three years, and I have not heard a word,” Johnson said.

Concerned by the VA’s lack of communication, Johnson said, he went to a private specialist in Evans 18 months after his colonoscopy at the VA. Records show an endoscopy and a colonoscopy found six polyps, one of which contained pre-cancerous cells.

The practice removed all the polyps. Johnson said that he no longer trusts the VA and that the House committee should go after Wiley’s administration, despite retirements and resignations.

“The VA clearly has a lot of explaining to do, especially in light of the fact that VA Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel stated during a Feb. 26 House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Hearing that ‘a number of people have either retired or resigned’ as a result of the three veteran deaths due to delays in care at the Augusta VA Medical Center,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “If you asked 100 people to interpret the word ‘resign,’ 99 would likely tell you that someone who ‘resigned’ from an organization no longer works there.

Since the VA has confirmed that Stapleton still works for the Augusta medical center and no other senior executive has faced administrative action for the deaths at Charlie Norwood, Miller said it’s now up to Petzel to set the record straight.

“Veterans in Augusta and members of Congress deserve to hear the full truth about what VA is doing to hold its employees accountable when patients fall through the cracks – not carefully crafted statements that split semantic hairs in an apparent attempt to obscure the facts.”

Johnson said the procedure also opened his eyes about his health care.

“Considering my family history and what the private gastroenterologist found, I’m going to get a colonoscopy every three years, except never again at the VA,” he said.

Comments (15) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
IBeDogGone
3015
Points
IBeDogGone 03/12/14 - 05:09 pm
5
2
Wake Up

These patients served our Country putting their lives on the line they deserve the best of care. I think every patient no matter what their healtcare plan is should receive the best care possible, but get real our Veterans are not even receiving the quality of care Medicaid patients receive. A veteran's healthcare benefits are earned not a hand out.

thauch12
6982
Points
thauch12 03/12/14 - 09:13 pm
8
2
Borderline sensationalist...

The VA is clearly not the first choice for anyone's healthcare. I don't think that's an arguable point and it has unfortunately been that way for a while. As with many government agencies, it is full of waste, inefficient, and under-resourced in many departments. But this is nothing new!

There are some ridiculous assertions in this story though. For example, at ANY hospital, you will not be able to just walk into an administrator's office and talk to the head honcho-not at University, not at Eisenhower, not at Doctors and certainly not at GRU. Wiley was a pathetic (and borderline corrupt) leader, but the suggested lack of access is not something unique to her. Moreover, what is the point of publishing Stapleton's salary as if that is so scandalous? That is in line with what an average hematologist makes!

The VA needs some serious reform, from the bottom to the top. But this isn't something isolated to Augusta or even this administration. Sticking to the relevant facts (instead of some of this borderline sensationalism) would certainly be a lot more constructive in fixing the problems...

dichotomy
36283
Points
dichotomy 03/12/14 - 10:57 pm
6
4
It's government run health

It's government run health care. It will never be fixed. Believe me, wherever they took the money from to straighten out the colonoscopy situation, some other poor bastard in another clinic or another VA hospital somewhere ain't getting something they need. They did not just print up some extra money so the Augusta VA could give more colonoscopies.

They are in the process of doing the same thing to Medicare right now. It won't be long until you start hearing the same type of "colonoscopy" stories from Medicare patients. Shortage of money, delays in getting needed procedures.

It's just like Obamacare. It's broke before it even gets implemented. Just because you MIGHT get the "free" annual checkup and the birth control pills don't mean you are going to get the new kidney when you need it.

It's all government controlled now. It ain't going to be as good as it once was. That "administrator" at the VA was just a typical government bureaucrat...just like the ones at Medicare and the ones that set up and administer Obamacare. The problems at the VA are just a mature example of what Medicare and Obamacare will be shortly.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 03/12/14 - 11:27 pm
6
1
It is....

It is a bureaucracy. Once created, 90% of the total effort of the bureaucratic entity goes to support and promote the bureaucracy.

It's Gubment cheese in the form of healthcare.

iaaffg
3144
Points
iaaffg 03/13/14 - 04:21 am
3
3
it disgusts me how this
Unpublished

it disgusts me how this administration will bend over to please illegal immigrants and deadbeats who won't work and refuse to work and instead sit around with their hands out and mouths open, demanding this, demanding that, and then GETTING IT, without having to do one blessed thing for it in return, but this same administration, who claims to be a champion of the downtrodden and unfortunate, ignore and simply do not care about the veterans who have served their country, actually went out and put their lives on the line at times. a 14 year old pregnant unwed girl will get more attention, love, and money spent on her and her spawn by the government than a vet will after serving for 20 or more years. this is some america, eh?

agustinian
721
Points
agustinian 03/13/14 - 06:42 am
4
2
VA Needs a Colonoscopy

The VA needs a colonoscopy, but given the anatomy of that outfit, I don't think they make an instrument big enough to fit the size of their of their colon.

corgimom
36770
Points
corgimom 03/13/14 - 07:58 am
7
2
I have had many

I have had many colonoscopies. If the prep isn't done properly and the bowel isn't clean, the colonoscopy can't be done, and that's not the hospital's fault, it's the fault of the patient.

If he knew that he needed 2-3 days prep, then he should've gone on a liquid diet 3 days ahead of time. The hospital doesn't prep a patient, the patient has to do it.

Dixieman
16595
Points
Dixieman 03/13/14 - 08:39 am
5
4
Welcome to the future

This is what government-run healthcare is like, folks, whether VA, NHS in England, or Obamacare...get used to it or be prepared to pay your own money here or fly to Asia for better -- and just plain decent -- healthcare.

NrthAugustaSam
504
Points
NrthAugustaSam 03/13/14 - 08:42 am
4
1
This is Normal

Every senior administrator covers up for each other to the extent that nobody loses any money or retirement benefits. It is a shell game or 3 card monte. We get hustled into believing that something happened when in reality the good ole boy network just hid the guy somewhere most likely at his current salary where he keeps getting raises until he retires. I have seen it many, many times. And what do they do? Sacrifice Wiley's reputation since she already retired but does not lose a dime. NEWSFLASH: It was not all her fault! Find the rest and do something about them too.

JimS
166
Points
JimS 03/13/14 - 09:35 am
0
0
Pay Up, Those Served!!!
Unpublished

These two present wars Still not paid for, nor especially the Decades bof Under Funding the VA and from those wars! That's 'your' patriotism, ignore!!:
The, senator, burr and, representative, miller are lead war, off the books, costs with no bid contracts, rubber stampers, with little to nothing for veterans at same time, and obstruction since, keeping with long held conservative tradition as they continue seeking privatization for corporate profit of government agencies, like their wars! With the burr, who only attends the Veterans Senate hearings, as minority chair, when he feels like it! Who's ideologies created the reasons for Veterans backlogs and more, much much more:

Freedom Isn't Free!! We Paid For It!! American Veterans!!

"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' {two tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, came with these two recent unpaid for wars, still not paid for nor the results of!}

As those served ignore their responsibility and most of the issues, DeJa-Vu all over again of previous decades and wars of, by the flag waving patriotic public served and thus through their Representatives! :
This Veterans' Administration, for the past five years, along with the Executive Branch and it's Cabinet when they can, they don't, like the VA, control their budgets, have finally been taking on the long ignored Veterans' issues, and all the new from these recent wars and Veterans of. Sadly many many of the Brothers and Sisters have perished from these ignored issues. Those served demand wars, give tax cuts with and put said wars costs, no bid contracts for private government contractors, on the credit card. Sending the very few who serve them into, they and their families the only ones demanded to sacrifice. And the peoples Representatives, especially those still calling themselves conservative, take issues caused by that under funding, Budget Still Mostly Borrowed, and more and lay blame on the Agency and not themselves, the people served, and the media, follow that lead, for decades now!!

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

"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

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?

ProPublica and The Seattle Times Nov. 9, 2012 - Lost to History: Missing War Records Complicate Benefit Claims by Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans
"DeLara's case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War."

Army Says War Records Gap Is Real, Launches Recovery Effort

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

'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

fedex227
11187
Points
fedex227 03/13/14 - 10:55 am
3
1
Corgi's right though ...
Unpublished

Gotta get that prep work done right. Good times.

corgimom
36770
Points
corgimom 03/13/14 - 12:36 pm
5
2
I would also like to point

I would also like to point out that since Richard Johnson waited 18 MONTHS to go to his private physician, who found 6 polyps, there is no proof anywhere that the polyps had been present when the VA scope was done.

Because I'll tell y'all, if I felt that a procedure hadn't been done properly, I sure wouldn't wait EIGHTEEN MONTHS to do something about it!

He has no case against the VA. This is nonsense.

corgimom
36770
Points
corgimom 03/13/14 - 12:38 pm
5
1
I can't stand it when people

I can't stand it when people don't do the right thing, and then try to blame other people for their own doings.

SJL1204
188
Points
SJL1204 03/13/14 - 05:54 pm
2
0
Wesley Brown

Mr. Brown seems to feel the need to do multiple stories on the VA showing them in a negative way. Knowing due to patient confidentiality they cannot respond to most of the allegations. They are a sitting duck.

SJL1204
188
Points
SJL1204 03/13/14 - 06:00 pm
2
0
Dr. Stapleton

The Chief of Staff inherited the colonoscopy issue at the VA. When he decided to change jobs, not resign,he had worked to resolve the problem and it was resolved Dr. Stapleton is a wonderful doctor and an exceptional person. He fixed the problem . Mr. Brown u want him fired? So vets will then have a delay in cancer care. Nice.

KSL
140394
Points
KSL 03/13/14 - 07:27 pm
1
1
Corgi, Here is what I cannot

Corgi,

Here is what I cannot stand. And get this right. Both my father and my husband's father faught in WW2. Neither of them ever relied on their VA benefits

There was something left on the table there. Can I have them?

KSL
140394
Points
KSL 03/13/14 - 09:00 pm
1
1
Guess not!

Guess not!

corgimom
36770
Points
corgimom 03/14/14 - 07:00 pm
0
0
I have no idea what you are

I have no idea what you are talking about, KSL. I guess you do, but I don't, so I can't possibly "get it right".

Back to Top

Top headlines

Georgia Regents' hospital plan chosen

Georgia Regents Medical Center won a lengthy and hardfought battle over two other Augusta hospitals to build the first hospital in Columbia County, the Georgia Department of Community Health ...
Search Augusta jobs