BRADENTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs this week, saying it routinely downplayed legitimate complaints of patient neglect at medical facilities across the country. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the agency that investigates whistleblower complaints in the federal government, criticized the VA on Monday for failing to dig deeper into allegations made by its own employees of treatment errors and appointment delays.
“The VA, and particularly the VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector, has consistently used a ‘harmless error’ defense, where the department acknowledges problems but claims patient care is unaffected,” Carolyn Lerner, who leads the OSC, wrote in a six-page letter to President Obama. “This approach has prevented the VA from acknowledging the severity of systemic problems and from taking the necessary steps to provide quality care to veterans.”
Ms. Lerner’s letter cites multiple cases where VA medical inspectors refused to acknowledge threats to patient health or safety, including:
· In Brockton, Mass., a veteran was not given his first psychiatric evaluation until he had spent eight years as a resident of its VA mental health facility.
· In Grand Junction, Colo., the VA facility’s drinking water had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria, which can cause forms of pneumonia, and standard maintenance and cleaning procedures were not performed.
· In Buffalo, N.Y., health care professionals did not always comply with VA sterilization standards and failed to wear required protective gear.
“The VA is in a disturbing state of denial,” said Buchanan, who represents a region home to more than 66,000 veterans. “You simply cannot fix a problem if you refuse to acknowledge it even exists. This just underscores the need for Congress and the Administration to work toward a long-term solution to disinfect a VA system fraught with bureaucratic negligence and abuse.”
Buchanan, co-Chair of Florida’s bipartisan congressional delegation, held a hearing earlier this month to address the VA health care system in Florida. Six Florida facilities, including Bay Pines in St. Petersburg, are among the 112 being investigated for possibly manipulating appointment data. More than 1.5 million veterans reside in the Sunshine State.
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