Please PRAY for out Veterans! They deserve better care than this!!
A recent investigation reveals many military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at many veterans hospitals. Worse yet, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, (VA), is aware of the problems and has done little to effectively prevent veterans dying from delays in care according to documents obtained in the investigation and interviews with numerous experts.
The problem seems especially dire at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina where veterans who are waiting for months for simple gastrointestinal procedures such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy and are dying because their cancers are not caught in time. While sources close to the investigation say the number of veterans dead or dying of cancer because of delays in diagnosis or treatment at this facility could be more than 20. The VA has confirmed 6 deaths at Dorn directly tied to delays.’
A private physician specializing in colonoscopies in Columbia, Dr. Stephen Lloyd says, “It’s very sad, because people died.” Lloyd and other physicians across South Carolina’s capital city are being affected by the delays at Dorn as veterans are seeking treatment or diagnoses outside the VA hospital. Lloyd has been one of a few doctors in the area willing to speak on the record about the situation at Dorn. “Veterans paid the ultimate price,” he said. “People that had appointments had their appointments canceled and rescheduled much later. In some cases that made an impact where they went into a later stage of illness and therefore lost the battle to live.”
A 63 year old Vietnam veteran, Oneal Sessions, said he was told by staff at Dorn Medical Center this year that he didn’t need a colonoscopy. Instead, he said, they gave him a routine test that would show whether he had polyps that are cancerous or in danger of becoming so. Sessions said the VA told him to come back in several years. Oneal ignored the advice and got a colonoscopy in the office of his private physician, Lloyd. Four polyps were removed and two of those were diagnosed as pre-cancerous according to the doctor. He could have had colon cancer had he waited several years, Lloyd said. “There is a little problem that the VA had,” Sessions says. “My feeling is the VA is not doing their ‘pre-stuff’ that they should do to protect the veterans.”
According to the investigation, what is occurring at Dorn, is not just an oversight. Government documents obtained during the investigation but could not be made public, show that the hospital knew that its growing waiting list and delays in care ‘were” having deadly consequences. Medical case reviews of 280 gastrointestinal cancer patients at Dorn discovered 52 were “associated with a delay in diagnosis and treatment.”
Government documents illustrate just how bad delays got at Dorn:
* One patient was brought into the emergency room needing urgent care after suffering multiple delays, and the documents state, “that was the facility’s first realization that patients were ‘falling through the cracks.'”
* Another veteran had to wait nine months for a colonoscopy – “a significant delay,” according to VA records that “would have impacted the stage at which he was diagnosed.” By the time this veteran had surgery, his cancer was at stage 3.
* Yet another veteran recommended for possible disease of the esophagus had to wait four months for an appointment and another eleven months for an endoscopy which resulted in a diagnosis of late-stage esophageal cancer. An internal VA report says that without the delay, “his cancer would have been diagnosed much earlier.
In July 2011, a hospital doctor sent a warning to administrators that the backlog for Dorn’s gastrointestinal appointments had reached 2,500 and patients were waiting eight months for appointments. By December 2011, the documents show the backlog at Dorn had grown to 3,800. By September 2013, the VA’s inspector general affirmed details of delays at Dorn in stark language, stating that 700 of the delays for appointment or care were “critical.”
Most troubling is that the problem at Dorn had been identified and taxpayer money was given to fix the problem in September 2011. “We appropriated a million dollars ‘for Dorn’ because the VA asked for it,” according to Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Documents obtained show that only a third of that million dollars from Congress was used for its intended purpose, to pay for care for veterans on a waiting lists. Miller says the VA “will say’, ‘we redirected those dollars to go somewhere it was needed.” where would it be more needed than to prevent the deaths of veterans?” “These are real people that we’re talking about, that are being harmed – either made sick, will be sick in the future or have died,” Miller said.
Documents and interviews also indicate that the problem goes beyond delayed colonoscopies and other gastrointestinal procedures at Dorn. At the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, the VA said three veterans died as a result of delayed care and documents show a waiting list of 4,500 patients. The VA acknowledged it is investigating delays in Atlanta, North Texas and Jackson Mississippi but says, no “adverse outcomes” were found because of delays at VA centers in Texas or Mississippi.
“Long wait times and a weak scheduling policy and process have been persistent problems for the VA, and both the GAO and the VA’s (inspector general) have been reporting on these issues for more than a decade,” according to Debra Draper of the Government Accountability Office. Draper’s office has been reporting to Congress on the delays in care at the VA for years. It is so bad she said, that she and her staff have found evidence that VA hospitals have tried to cover up wait times, fudge numbers and backdate delayed appointments in an effort to make things look better than they really are.
“Nothing has been implemented that we know of at this point,” Draper said. “We’ve reported similar things, as well as the inspector general, has reported similar findings – for over a decade.”
What is even more disturbing, at hospitals where veterans died waiting for care, administrators got bonuses, not demotions, according to congressional investigators.
In a statement, the VA said, “The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to providing the best quality, safe and effective health care our Veterans have earned and deserve. We take seriously any issue that occurs at one of the more than 1,700 health care facilities across the country. The consult delay at Dorn VAMC has been resolved.”
The statement added that cases are now tracked daily, and additional staff members were hired. Patients and medical staff at Dorn tell investigators, that is just not true, the problems continue and veterans are still facing delays that could be killing them.