The battle to regain trust

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

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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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Riverman1 11/25/13 - 05:27 am
VA Is Actually Safer Than Private Medicine

Improvement is always a goal, but incidents such as these can be deceiving. When you have an organization such as the VA that self-reports problems you are going to find short comings if the process is valid. It wasn’t long ago that the VA, on their own, temporarily halted endoscopies because of the sterilizing process for the scopes. Could that have contributed to the delay in the appointments? In private medicine that is run by hundreds of thousands of different practices, problems go largely unreported to the public. These practices have less supervision and no requirements to release disconcerting information to the media.

Does anyone believe scopes are not sometimes improperly sterilized in the thousands of clinics over the country? That patients are not made to wait too long for procedures? Of course all these things happen in degrees far greater than at the VA. Do you think these private clinics would miss a day of operation because of such a discovery? Do you think Dr. Joe Blow, a gastroenterologist, would call the Chronicle and patients if he discovered any kind of problem with his office procedures?

ymnbde 11/25/13 - 07:56 am
of course, all hospitals make mistakes

every single human activity will have mistakes
and we all know hospitals that have really bad reputations
however, we also all know governments reputation
for competency
the system has changed, we must hold health care to higher standards
and monitor results more carefully
because health care is going to get worse, real fast

t3bledsoe 11/25/13 - 11:34 am

"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,"

Not only does the whole editorial speak to this need, BUT in my opinion, the above sentences speak LOUDLY of the great need for our government to direct much more military spending toward The VA!!

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 11/25/13 - 12:36 pm
Worse, Real Fast

Let's mull over this comment from ymndbe:

We also all know government’s reputation for competency. The system has changed; we must hold health care to higher standards and monitor results more carefully because health care is going to get worse, real fast.

I always get a little shaky in the knees when I hear a government official talk about higher standards and monitoring. When has this administration (or the former two for that matter) held anyone accountable for anything? I wonder if ymndbe’s use of the word we is what is known as the royal we, which really means somebody else?

Darby 11/25/13 - 01:18 pm
The VA system was established to fulfill Lincoln's promise

"to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan".

All we need to do is dedicate ourselves to seeing that promise through. The rest will take care of itself.

ymnbde 11/25/13 - 02:05 pm
sorry, little lamb, if i made you think i'm a

government official
i'm just the "for" part, not the "of" and "by" parts
of government
the "we" part that must do the monitoring
is people who will write letters to newspapers
with their health care problems
and people who will demand better care
and won't just sit there and take substandard care
and will show up at government meetings and complain
that sort of thing
sorry about your knees

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