Can a Former Big Business Exec Ensure Veterans Get Healthcare?

Source: rsadler/Flickr

Source: rsadler/Flickr

Last week, the American public was informed of just how poorly the Administration of Veterans’ Affairs operates and just how corrosive the agency’s culture can be.

Supplementing a November report — which revealed that veterans of the U.S. armed forces are needlessly dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment – CNN learned that records of deceased veterans were changed or physically altered to conceal how many died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital. Whistleblower Pauline DeWenter — the scheduling clerk at that facility — told the publication that she was tasked with managing what was called the “secret waiting list,” on which the names of veterans’ waiting for medical were placed and sometimes left for months without any attention. She explained that there not enough doctors and not enough appointments, to handle the high number of new patients. “‘Deceased’ notes on files were removed to make statistics look better,” she said, while “at least seven times since last October, records that showed that veterans died while waiting for care … were physically altered, or written over, by someone else.”

An internal document from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs obtained by CNN at the end of last year painted a picture of government healthcare bureaucracy that overlooked simple medical screenings, like colonoscopies and endoscopies, that could have prevented a number of deaths. As the investigation progressed, the numbers only grew worse. At the Phoenix hospital alone, at least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments, while an internal VA audit released in early June found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting or never received care.

A White House report delivered to President Barack Obama on Friday framed that gross mismanagement and misallocation of federal resources in the usual government-speak. “A corrosive culture has led to personnel problems across the Department that are seriously impacting morale and by extension, the timeliness of healthcare,” the report stated. “The problems inherent within an agency with an extensive field structure are exacerbated by poor management and communication structures, distrust between some VA employees and management, a history of retaliation toward employees raising issues, and a lack of accountability across all grade levels.” Furthermore, “there is a tendency to transfer problems rather than solve problems,” the report found. “This is in part due to the difficulty of hiring and firing in the federal government.”

If managerial and bureaucratic problems are not enough, the report also showed that the administration has been slow to adapt to the changing demographics among younger veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who have different needs than other veterans.