VA scandal deepens as senator, whistleblower provide details of mistreatment

New evidence emerged this week that indicates problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are widespread and may have caused the deaths of more than 1,000 veterans.

On June 23, a whistleblower at the Phoenix VA hospital that’s at the center of the patient wait time scandal revealed that records of veterans who died while awaiting care were altered to hide their deaths.

On June 24, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) issued a report that described a wide range of VA misconduct.

Clerk: Veteran Deaths Covered Up

Pauline DeWenter, a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA hospital where 18 veterans died while waiting for appointments, told CNN that records of veterans’ deaths were deliberately altered by somebody else. She said she believes this was done to conceal the deaths.

“I would say (it was done to) hide the fact. Because it is marked a death. And that death needs to be reported. So if you change that to, ‘entered in error’ or, my personal favorite, ‘no longer necessary,’ that makes the death go away. So the death would never be reported then,” DeWenter told CNN.

DeWenter also confirmed that she was ordered to use so-called “secret wait lists,” unofficial lists used to keep treatment delays off the books and make them look better. Investigators concluded that up to 1,700 veterans had been placed on “secret lists” at the Phoenix VA hospital, and that 18 had died while awaiting treatment.

According to DeWenter, new requests for treatment “went into a desk drawer.” She said there was “no doubt” that the document was a secret list.

DeWenter and Dr. Sam Foote, a former VA physician and whistleblower whose revelations of deaths and delayed care at the Phoenix hospital ignited the VA scandal, revealed what they knew to the VA’s Office of the Inspector General last December. But her decision to go public came after she called a Navy veteran to schedule an appointment – and found out that he had died. DeWenter promised the family she would do everything possible to prevent the same thing from happening to another veteran.

Senator: Falsification of Records ‘Just the Tip of the Iceberg’

The day after DeWenter came forward, Sen. Coburn made public the results of his year-long review of the VA in a 119-page report that he says reveals the problems at the VA are worse than anyone imagined, according to a Washington Post article.

“The scope of the VA’s incompetence – and Congress’s indifferent oversight – is breathtaking and disturbing,” Coburn said.

Coburn’s findings detail instances of not only cover-ups and incompetence, but also alleged crimes. Included in the report are details of:

  • A former VA police chief who pled guilty to kidnapping, rape and murder charges.
  • A VA neurologist accused of 16 counts of sexual abuse by patients.
  • Major construction projects that exceeded budget by $1.5 billion and were delayed for years.
  • The deaths of more than 1,000 veterans that may have been due to VA misconduct.
  • $845 million in medical malpractice payments since 2001.

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