A new accusation has been made against the Phoenix VA as part of of the massive fraud scandal that has been outed by whistleblowers last week. Along with purposely creating long waiting lists, the VA has been accused of hiding the number of people who died while on the VA’s extensive waiting list.
“Hiding and altering information is, unfortunately, becoming a routine practice for some medical facilities,” said Chris Paulos, an attorney who practices in qui tam, or whistleblower, and False Claims Act litigation with the Levin, Papantonio law firm. “The manipulative and deceptive tracking of patient statistics not only encroaches upon legal boundaries, but it also violates basic moral and ethical standards.”
The whistleblower, Pauline DeWenter, was a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA who said that she was told by supervisors to manage the “secret waiting list” that contained the names of veterans who were seeking medical care. Many veterans wouldn’t receive medical attention for up to nine months, sometimes even longer. That would create a backlog of sick veterans who weren’t getting medical help. Some waited so long that they would die in waiting.
“The leadership was telling us ‘We passed everything. We’re not doing anything wrong,’” said DeWenter. “But people were still dying.”
When these extremely sick veterans would die while waiting for treatment, supervisors at the Phoenix VA ordered the removal of “deceased” notes from the dead patients’ files to make VA statistics look good, said DeWenter. She also said that on at least seven occasions since October, records of a veteran who died in waiting were physically rewritten by someone else to indicate the late veteran as alive. The Phoenix VA was outright hiding the deaths of veterans.
“By doing that, that placed (the veterans) back on the waiting list,” said DeWenter. “(It was done to) hide the fact. Because it is marked a death. And the death needs to be reported. So if you change that to, ‘entered in error’ or, . . . ‘no longer necessary,’ that makes the death go away. So the death would never be reported then.”
The VA also has more than false records to worry about. The Office of Special Counsel, a group of government prosecutors that protects whistleblowers, recently submitted a letter to the White House that outlined delayed, poor, and abusive treatment in VA hospitals. In one instance, according to the letter, a veteran was kept in a mental hospital for eight years before ever receiving a medical evaluation. It was noted as “routine” for the VA to ignore critical reports.
The allegations made by whistleblowers like DeWenter, and the information provided by the OSC to the White House, paint a harrowing picture about the true situation of veterans’ treatment in the country. The VA system needs some serious reevaluation in order to give our veterans the medical treatment they deserve.