Earlier this month, I returned to Augusta to participate in an oversight visit with U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to get to the bottom of the problems plaguing the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. Along with my colleagues – U.S. Reps. Phil Gingrey and John Barrow of Georgia, and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina – I questioned the VA hospital staff on how, when and why the lapses in patient care resulting in the deaths of Georgia veterans occurred, and who was ultimately responsible.
WHILE THE VA STAFF assured us that the hospital’s backlog had been resolved and that proper equipment had been acquired to address the consultation delays, it is absolutely imperative that all steps continue to be taken to ensure that the delays and negligence that occurred are prevented from happening again.
Furthermore, it is crucial that those responsible for the preventable deaths that occurred at the Charlie Norwood VAMC are held accountable for their actions and are disciplined appropriately. The hospital’s two-year consultation delays, involving at least 5,100 veterans in need of care for gastrointestinal conditions, have been linked to the deaths of three cancer patients in 2011 and 2012. Additionally, numerous complaints have been voiced by families of veterans regarding misdiagnosis, improper care and unnecessary delays.
When confronted on the issue, the VA hospital staff stressed that these veterans were not cases of patients in dire medical need, but cases of routine screenings. However, with further questioning, we found that there were patients who needed diagnostic procedures and did not receive it. The cavalier attitude expressed by the VA toward these important services has led to preventable deaths – and we need to know who allowed this attitude to prevail, and what is being done to rectify this troubling trend.
AS BOTH A MEDICAL doctor and a U.S. Marine, it has been deeply troubling to hear reports of subpar care given to veterans here in Augusta. As an original-intent constitutionalist, I strongly believe that we must provide for our national
defense and take care of the men and women who have so bravely served our country with dignity and pride. We’ve made promises to our veterans, and we must fulfill those promises. That is why it is vital that veterans receive the best possible care, and that these problems do not recur.
While it appears that, under new leadership, the hospital is heading in a positive direction, this is just the beginning of a full investigation. My colleagues and I have pledged to work to hold the VA accountable so veterans may receive world-class health care at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and VA hospitals around the country.
I will not rest until this happens and we return to providing veterans with the quality care they so rightfully deserve.
(The writer has represented Georgia’s U.S. House District 10 since 2007.)