Kadner: Lipinski Sees Long Probe of VA Scandal
It may take time to determine the extent of the problems at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics and, more importantly, come up with solutions, according to U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski.
During what was billed as a “listening session,” Lipinski, D-3rd, and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., spent two hours hearing the complaints of veterans at a VFW post in Berwyn last weekend.
“There were a number of complaints about service and treatment, but it is difficult to assess, without knowing all the particulars, whether each case indicates a problem that needs to be addressed systemwide,” Lipinski said.
After hearing a CBS News story in which VA employees said they were instructed to falsify computer records, Lipinski said he’s troubled that a report by the VA inspector general indicated that there were no major scheduling problems for patients at Hines VA Hospital
The VA scandal erupted in April with revelations that there were secret waiting lists at a Phoenix VA hospital that may have played a role in the deaths of 40 veterans.
Since then, there are indications that the problem may be more widespread, spurred by financial incentives paid to VA administrators for demonstrating that they were seeing patients in a timely manner. In fact, veterans across the country have been complaining about delays.
Eric Shinseki resigned as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs last week, following calls by Lipinski and other congressmen for him to step down.
“Sen. Kirk has called on the administrator of the Hines VA to resign, but I’m not there yet,” Lipinski said.
Lipinski said the complaints he heard from veterans over the weekend were wide-ranging, from being unable to see the chief administrator at Hines to getting the runaround from lower level officials.
“One veteran said he went to a patient representative with a complaint and was told to take his complaint to the inspector general,” Lipinski said. “When he went to the inspector general, he was told to talk to the patient representative. There seemed to be a general feeling that veterans were getting the runaround and nobody was listening to their problems.”
“What is clear that’s what happened in the VA system is shame and a disgrace,” Lipinski said. “Taking care of veterans is something that’s always been important to me.
“Obviously, there was a problem with reporting things up the chain of command in the VA, and we have to figure out why that was and who is responsible. I don’t think Shinseki was aware of the extent of the problem.”
CBS News reported that employees distorted scheduling records in a computer system to make it appear that there were no delays in getting medical treatment.
If a patient asked for an appointment within a couple of weeks and no appointment was available, he would be scheduled for a date two months later. But in the computer file, the “requested date” of the appointment allegedly would be reported as the one two months later, not the one two weeks later.
That would make it appear as though everyone was being booked on the date requested, when in fact that was not the case.
CBS News reported that it verified the practice with multiple employees at Hines and confirmed that similar false data was being recorded elsewhere in the VA system.
“I’m concerned that this issue, like so many issues, is becoming politicized,” Lipinski said. “There are indications that Republicans are trying to use this to discredit (President) Obama and perhaps impact the mid-term (congressional) elections.
“There are some Republicans calling for replacing the VA hospital system with a voucher plan, which would allow veterans to use private hospitals.
“But I don’t know if that’s practical, and I don’t think anyone has studied the ramifications of such a voucher system. Maybe it’s something that can be looked at. But I just don’t know enough about it at this time.”
Lipinski said while discussing the problems with a veteran in Orland Park, the man said he uses VA facilities a couple of times a year but actually doesn’t need it.
“He thought perhaps the VA ought to only treat veterans with combat-related ailments, those who really needed such government care and that not everyone who was in the service should automatically qualify,” the congressman said. “It might be something to consider, the idea of limiting the VA’s services only to those ailments and injuries that are related to combat or a veteran’s service in the military.”
Some veterans are now required to pay a co-pay for treatment for non-service medical conditions. While some veterans qualify for free health care based on certain eligibility, the VA does a financial assessment of veterans with non-service-related ailments using Social Security and IRS records.
In addition to co-pays, the VA is required to submit claims to insurers for treatments of all nonservice-related conditions.
And there have been problems in the past with the VA’s disability program, which requires proof that the disability is service-related.
Vietnam veterans subjected to Agent Orange were initially refused disability status, and decades later the same thing happened to veterans who claimed they were suffering from Persian Gulf Syndrome. Those veterans contended that the government was simply trying to save money.
Some VA critics contend that’s part of the problem behind the current scandal — the VA is trying to hide a physician shortage or is unwilling to pay for more doctors.
Lipinski said that although the VA’s budget has increase in recent years, it may not have kept pace with the number of aging veterans seeking assistance and a recent influx of military personnel from recent wars.
What’s clear is that there are serious problems in the VA system and some people tried to cover up the scandal.
In the meantime, people who fought for their country and needed health care did not get it.
Lawn Sign Volunteer Contribute Get Updates