Is the government capable of taking care of veterans?

Jun 24, 2014, 5:02 PM | Updated: 11:10 pm

Just when it didn’t seem possible, the news out of the Veteran’s Administration Health Care System continues to get worse.

CNN has talked with another whistleblower from the Phoenix branch, Pauline DeWenter. She told news channel that
records of dead veterans were changed — even recently — to hide how many people died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital.

“Deceased” notes on files were removed to make statistics look better, so veterans would not be counted as having died while waiting for care, Pauline DeWenter said.

DeWenter worked in scheduling and said records were changed to hide the deaths of seven veterans.

She followed up with the Arizona Republic by admitting that she was the one who had kept the secret waiting list in Phoenix.

A scheduling employee for the Phoenix VA Health Care System disclosed Monday that she was the keeper of a “secret list” of veterans who waited months for medical care.

It was a surge in demand for appointments that caused the scheduling problems, DeWenter said. She told the paper
that more than 1,000 veterans were sidetracked onto that “secret list” — ignored for weeks or months because they couldn’t be scheduled within a 14-day goal set for wait times by VA administrators.

DeWenter went on to say her objections were ignored by her supervisor and that she didn’t voice her complaints to then-director Sharon Helman, because staff had been commanded to meet the wait-time goals.

“She said during a meeting, ‘If you don’t do this my way, I will personally buy you a pass for the Seventh Street bus … out of the VA,’ ” DeWenter told the paper.

DeWenter said she feels horrible about her part in carrying out a scheme that hurt veterans. “I’m a bad person,” she said, crying. “My hands were tied. I tried to scream, and did the best with what I had. But the vets who were upset and deceased — I can’t shake that feeling.”

The vastness of this problem continues to astonish. Every day, it’s something new and, seriously, as an aside, what kind of person would brush aside complaints or lie when it concerns the health care of United States Veterans? Apparently, one that runs VA health care facilities around the country.

It’s a story of classic statistic manipulation. Change a label here, don’t enter a name there and just like magic the stats are in line with the wait-time goals.

Of course, meeting those goals means earning bonus money — $10 million dollars’ worth was handed out over the course of three years in Phoenix alone. Who cares if they had to lie, cheat and steal to get them? Everyone was happy. Everyone, except the veterans waiting for their health care. In some cases those veterans were dying while people cashed their bonus checks.

Yet, the news still gets worse. Officials at the Phoenix VA knew about the problems with wait times at least since 2012. Still they did nothing.

During that time, The Arizona Republic writes no one at the VA heeded the whistleblower warnings because they used, ” ‘a harmless error’ defense, where the department acknowledges problems but claims patient care is unaffected.”

So now, secret wait lists were “harmless errors” even though, again, some veterans died while waiting for health care. Meanwhile, 80 percent of top VA officials were cashing their bonus checks. Is that the new American way?

Thankfully, there are still so many stories about great doctors and nurses who work at the VA. If not for them the entire system would seem like a failure.

Clearly, the problems come from the top. The level of incompetence there is unconscionable. The bonuses, data manipulation and years of cover-ups at the VA seem criminal. Over the past two months it’s been story after story and those stories have left a couple of impressions about who is running the VA.

Either those running the show really don’t care for the well-being of this nation’s veterans and/or government bureaucrats are just incapable of doing the job. All veterans seem to get from VA management is a thanks for their service as the managers cash their bonus checks.

Rob Hunter

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Is the government capable of taking care of veterans?