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VA backlog gone, accountability issues remain

Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 8:57 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 2:09 AM
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Health care administrators at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta reported Monday that they have hired additional staff and eliminated the hospital’s deadly backlog of more than 5,000 unresolved gastrointestinal consultations.

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Chairman of the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), second from left, addresses the press at the Charlie Norwood VA on Monday, January 6, 2014, regarding the steps department leaders have taken to address problems with delays in care and hold accountable VA employees and executives who may be responsible for allowing patients to slip through the cracks. Miller will be leading congressional oversight along with Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.),  far left, Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Chairman of the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), second from left, addresses the press at the Charlie Norwood VA on Monday, January 6, 2014, regarding the steps department leaders have taken to address problems with delays in care and hold accountable VA employees and executives who may be responsible for allowing patients to slip through the cracks. Miller will be leading congressional oversight along with Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), far left, Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee applauded the efforts as a step in the right direction, but said during a congressional oversight visit at the Augusta hospital that he is concerned those responsible for the hospital’s missteps have not suffered serious enough consequences.

Following a review of consults in 2010 through 2013 at the Augusta VA, three cancer patients died and four other veterans were identified as being seriously harmed due to delays in the hospital’s gastrointestinal program.

All the affected families have been contacted except for one victim, whose next of kin could not be contacted despite repeated attempts by phone and certified mail, the Augusta VA said in a statement.

“Mistakes are going to be made at medical facilities because humans are involved, but what is happening here is there was a backlog of GI consults that grew over a long period of time,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said during a news conference. “We want to know why and who made the decisions to allow this backlog to grow.”

Miller said the committee hopes to have answers within 30 days, but said he is unsure if that goal will be met.

A request for a copy of all performance reviews, pay bonuses and disciplinary actions filed since 2007 for the administration of former director Rebecca Wiley has remain unfulfilled for more than four months.

Plus, the congressman said administration at the Augusta VA shared “very little information” Monday as to why delays in care occurred.

Miller said the members of the facility’s executive office only said the cause was management’s failure to schedule primary physicians’ referrals for their patients to see gastroenterologists.

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., said some primary physicians have filed complaints with the executive office for the delays in scheduling.

“If somebody has caused these problems, some heads need to roll,” said Broun, a former Marine and medical doctor who’s a member of the Navy Reserve.

In agreement with Broun and Miller were Reps. John Barrow, D-Ga; Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; and Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. Each of the congressmen said previous hospital administration is likely to blame for the lack of care, and that discipline of those involved rests in the hands of President Obama and Department of Veterans Affairs administration.

“Unfortunately, the pattern at the VA in the past has been if somebody has committed an error of some kind they move to another facility and that is not acceptable anymore, especially when it ends in the death of a patient,” Miller said.

Leaders at the Augusta VA would not comment on the congressmen’s remarks, but said in a statement that additional staff has been hired to meet the demand for services, and that consults are now tracked daily to ensure timely care is provided and to prevent future issues.

“We at the VA care very deeply for every veteran we are privileged to serve,” the statement read. “We offer our sincerest condolences to veterans who have been affected and those families who have lost a loved one.”

Miller said some of the information the committee requested was delivered to his Washington office Friday, and that he plans to begin reviewing the documents today and start to work with House counsel to determine how the information can be released publicly in accordance with privacy laws.

In some cases, Miller said, the committee does plan to ask for information dating back further than 2007 and that he believes the VA will be forthcoming with the remaining information requested.

“I do not know what it will take to get the Department of Veterans Affairs to understand we don’t want to be in an adversarial situation, but constitutionally Congress has an oversight role and this is not a political issue,” he said. “We are not trying to come in and score points. I constantly say that if everybody will just be transparent with each other, this would be a better place.”

Broun said he will not rest until Congress finds the answers and gets America’s veterans world class care.

“We made a promise to our veterans and it is absolutely critical that we fulfill the promises we made,” he said. “If we don’t we are not going to be able to get good people to come in the military.”

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IBeDogGone
3015
Points
IBeDogGone 01/06/14 - 10:16 pm
4
1
EFFORTS APPLAUDED

I applaud the commitee for coming to Augusta and visiting the facility and it seems their efforts are headed in the right direction. I just hope someone will make sure all the plans set forth take place. I hope this group does not have a good PR helping with the publicity this is getting and motivation is lost when a few have been appeased.

kburough
50
Points
kburough 01/07/14 - 07:20 am
3
1
Alot of questions....

I have not heard from anyone at VA, I guess my husband has been ignored again. Since 2005 his primary doctors at VA sent request after request for a appointment with the gastro clinic and he never got an appointment.

I do not want any comments on this unless you really know about him..................................................

studmuffin1533
294
Points
studmuffin1533 01/07/14 - 08:20 am
5
1
We need to look deeper for the root cause.

I know many nurses and docs at the VA. Their patient loads continue to increase while professionals who leave are not replaced. Their bosses keep throwing up "budget issues" as the cause. These are hard working folks who love their patients.
For this bunch of ineffective congressmen to swagger around like they are actually going to do something good is the height of hypocrisy. THEY are the cause of almost all of these problems because they have failed to properly fund VA medicine. This is a classic case of "We're cutting your budget and forcing you to do more with less. And when you run out of money, we're going to rake you over the coals."
I challenge the Chronicle to actually do some journalism and write about how congress has failed the VA.

justus4
103
Points
justus4 01/07/14 - 12:51 pm
1
0
As someone with extensive
Unpublished

As someone with extensive knowledge about the VA, the problems in Augusta, GA are also seen in other states. These problems are leadership issues that few really understand. First, that request for a review of bonuses, salaries, and performance evaluations, as stated in the article is "unfulfilled" will remain that way. Every trick known to man will be used to avoid producing those records. Smart people would be able to get them. Next, the individuals hired are not the best and smartest and many are NOT veterans, which means well-connected people get jobs at the VA. The performance EVALs would prove that. Much of this is just for show because one will find many of the exact same problems next year. Nothing will change because vets have already given and politicians live for the next election. Check back in another year.

Sweet son
10729
Points
Sweet son 01/07/14 - 01:38 pm
1
1
So what happened to the lady that let the hospital get in the

terrible situation which occurred? I hope she is not still the administrator at the Columbia VA.

SJL1204
188
Points
SJL1204 01/07/14 - 07:05 pm
3
0
The congressman said

" they shared very little information." Maybe they did not speak to the right people.!!!

SJL1204
188
Points
SJL1204 01/07/14 - 07:05 pm
1
0
The congressman said

" they shared very little information." Maybe they did not speak to the right people.!!!

SJL1204
188
Points
SJL1204 01/07/14 - 07:07 pm
2
0
Sweet son

The lady in question has retired.

corgimom
33953
Points
corgimom 01/07/14 - 10:01 pm
0
0
kburough- if you don't want

kburough- if you don't want people to comment, don't post; and two- unless you are prepared to file a malpractice suit, I wouldn't expect to hear from them. What is it that you wish for them to say to you?

kburough
50
Points
kburough 01/08/14 - 06:19 am
0
0
corgimom-when people comment

on something they know nothing about, I do not like it. I am only commenting on things that have to do with my deceased husband. I don't expect to hear from them, my family & I have been trying for 9 years. I do not want them to say anything to me, I am only trying to stand up for some of the other Vets that have been ignored there.

Unless you or anyone else has been through this then you would not know or understand what has or is going on at the VA. Some gets the care they need & some don't.

Sweet son
10729
Points
Sweet son 01/08/14 - 12:19 pm
0
0
SJL

Thanks for the update!

StaffRN
2
Points
StaffRN 01/10/14 - 07:02 am
0
0
Rebecca Wiley (a.k.a "The

I have been told that Rebecca Wiley (a.k.a. "The Lady") is currently working at Doctor's Hospital.

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