The battle to regain trust

In wake of atrocities, VA must prove its worthiness to serve veterans

Augusta got whacked upside the head twice in one day last week – with the news that veterans died needlessly while waiting for care at our VA hospital, and with disturbing allegations of animal mistreatment by researchers at Georgia Regents University.

 

The sensational claims against GRU captured much of the attention, and we discussed that in an editorial Saturday. But as much as companion animals rightly tug at our hearts, the needless deaths of veterans is clearly the bigger scandal.

Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center has acknowledged that three cancer patients died needlessly during the past two years because of delayed care in its gastrointestinal program.

And sadly, the deaths of those three unnamed veterans may be just the tip of a very dark iceberg. As The Chronicle reported, over a nearly four-year period ending in 2010, “mismanagement of staff and medical procedures led to five patients sustaining injury or death and more than 4,500 gastrointestinal endoscopy consults going unresolved, according to a 2012 report from the VA Inspector General’s Office.”

Officials had to bring in equipment and personnel “to handle a consultation case­load that topped 5,100 unresolved diagnostic screenings last year,” The Chronicle reported Friday.

Reports blame a former director of the medical center for the tragic outcomes.

Little could be worse, nothing could be more shameful for this country and this government, than to neglect a veteran to death. Men who donned the uniform and interrupted – and in many cases, then risked – their lives in order to make the United States safe and its people free and secure.

It is no consolation – in fact, it only compounds the horror – that, according to CNN, six more deaths, perhaps preventable, occurred at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, S.C. –
allegedly under the same former director.

The VA found that mismanagement there led to “nearly 4,000 gastrointestinal appointment delays, which in turn led to 19 instances of serious injury or death for veteran patients.”

The thought of our aging veterans being so neglected is horrifying enough. But as others have pointed out, if this is the face of government health care, Americans might be well-advised to think again about entrusting that government to their own care.

In the meantime, the federal government has a long way to go to win back the trust of the veterans community and all of us who should have their backs.

“These brave service men fell victim to cancer that may have been avoided had they received specialized screenings during the early stages of the disease,” a VA spokesman wrote in an e-mailed statement. “We have worked diligently to eliminate the roadblocks that delayed these all important screenings and would like to share with you and our community our improvements and system changes that may keep other comrade at arms from falling victim to this insidious scourge, cancer.”

That’s a wonderful sentiment, but it’s not enough. Going forward, the Veterans Administration will have to exhibit concrete examples of system improvement and safeguards capable of preventing more such atrocities under its authority.

It will have to prove itself worthy of the sacred task of serving those who served us so honorably and well.

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