Washington’s VA hospital is sick. What about the rest of the country?
It did not take long for the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs to figure out there was something seriously wrong with conditions at the VA medical center in the District. He also quickly determined that senior VA officials had long been aware of some of the problems and so could not be trusted to fix them. That the inspector general issued a rare, urgent warning about the risks posed to patients underscores the deep-seated issues still confronting the department entrusted with taking care of the men and women who have fought for their country.
“We have not seen anything quite like this at a VA facility,” said Inspector General Michael J. Missal in issuing an interim report that found “serious and troubling deficiencies” at the Washington VA Medical Center. The comment was all the more startling given the past mismanagement scandals that have scarred VA. This time, independent watchdog investigators following up on a confidential March 21 tip found unsanitary conditions, medical-supply shortages and inattention to safety recalls at the facility that provides medical care to almost 100,000 veterans across the Washington region. Detailed in the April 12 report were doctors forced to stop procedures and nurses frantically scrounging for supplies during emergencies.
Investigators did not identify any adverse patient outcomes; the review is still underway. The unusual release of an interim report — less than a month after the investigation began — was an indictment of VA for its failures to address problems that were apparent as early as 2014. Why those failures occurred and whether anyone will be held accountable ought to be addressed as the inspector general’s office finishes its work and VA officials and Congress conduct their own reviews.
The quick reaction from Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was encouraging. He immediately relieved the facility’s director of his duties and installed one of his close advisers, Lawrence Connell, as acting director to make sure the problems were fixed. A broader review of the system to determine if there are similar problems at other medical centers is also planned. “Honoring America’s Veterans with quality health care” is the promise billeted on the homepage of the D.C. medical center — and it is one that should not be broken to people who served their country.
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