“I knew about patients who were dying while waiting for appointments on the VA’s secret schedules, and I couldn’t stay silent,” Dr. Sam Foote wrote in an op-ed in Saturday’s editions of The New York Times.
The former outpatient clinic director at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Phoenix, who assumed the role as the VA whistleblower in December 2013, wrote Saturday about the unacceptable conditions within the VA system that prompted him to call, alert, and employ Congress’ help to turn the system around for the better.
The allegations that Dr. Foote wrote about in The New York Times, mainly the allegations that veterans were dying while awaiting care in Phoenix as well as the falsified documents by VA staff, have spread like wildfire as the scandal of President Obama’s administration, and the claims have set off multiple investigations into the VA practices and procedures.
Officials close to the Veterans Administrations business model has indicated that the goal of the VA is to fulfill a veteran’s request for a doctor’s appointment within 14 days of the initial request, but documents uncovered by CBS News exposed that some VA employees had ways of “gaming the system” to achieve the 14-day goal on paper while veterans actually waited longer to see doctors. Recent documents uncovered by the Office of Medical Inspector found that clerks at a clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado, were instructed on how to falsify records so it appeared that doctors were seeing 14 patients a day, a number within the agency’s goal to help reduce the appointment backlog.
“Going public would damage an institution I gave more than two decades of my life to, trying to make a better place for veterans to get their care,” Foote wrote in The Times. “But I had to be able to sleep at night.”
Although none of the deaths of veterans in Phoenix have been formally tied to wait times, at least seven formal VA investigations going back more than four years have documented the use of hidden wait times at VA facilities.
Going forward, White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors is expected to speak privately with the VA Hospital staff on a condition of anonymity and in order to sort out the truth regarding the falsified documents and the true wait times of veterans to receive service.
“Most staff likely will refuse to speak openly in front of other administrators,” Dr. Katherine Mitchell, another doctor at Phoenix’s VA Hospital wrote, “because of palpable fear of retaliation.”
Since the scandal, President Obama has been vocal about the treatment of veterans in the United States and vows to “uphold our sacred trust to all who’ve served.”
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