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200 veterans died during the Phoenix VA scandal 6 years ago

Phoenix VA Health Care System (VA website)
April 15, 2020

2020 marks the six-year anniversary of the infamous Phoenix Veterans Health Administration scandal that rocked the country and resulted in the deaths of 200 veterans.

The scandal involved waiting lines so long for veterans to receive health-care treatment, that some had died before they could receive care. While the scandal was particularly bad in Phoenix, it was a common problem across the country.

There were cases of falsified records to create the illusion that patients were getting appointments within the 14-day maximum waiting period. An investigation showed the average wait time was 115 days for veterans receiving care in the Phoenix VA facilities, which was at least partially caused by a secret waiting list the Phoenix facilities were using. VA whistleblower Brandon Coleman called Phoenix “ground zero” of the overall VA scandal, Fox News reported in 2017.

“It is a cesspool. It’s the worst example of VA health care in the United States — period,” he said at the time.

Despite previously being considered a good example of the modern health-care system, the scandal resulted in deep scrutiny over the VA system, as well as a $1 million investigation and the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 passed into law by then-President Barack Obama on Aug. 7, 2014.

The bill gave an additional $16 billion in funding for the VA, $10 billion of which was for veterans to receive private medical care and $6 billion for increasing the number of VA staff. The bill also allowed the VA Secretary to fire managers who perform poorly. The 14-day maximum waiting period was eliminated, as it was considered a perverse incentive that resulted in the secret waiting lists and an unrealistic goal.

Even though there were more funding and regulations that aimed to hold VA staff accountable, Coleman said the wait lines were continuing to get longer for the next three years after the scandal broke.

“After the scandal hit in 2014, money poured into this place like there was no tomorrow. The annual budget was increased more than $100 million per year and yet wait times continue to get worse. Veterans continue to die,” he said.

AS recent as last year, Congress was still holding hearings about the wait times. The director of health care with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Debra Draper, told lawmakers that the VA made some progress, but it was insufficient.

“At this time, we continue to be concerned that VA has not sufficiently addressed the reliability of its wait-time data,” Draper said, according to Stars & Stripes. “Long wait times and weaknesses in the scheduling system have remained persistent and have hindered veterans’ ability to access care.”

The GAO made several recommendations to the VA to improve reducing the wait times, but it hasn’t fully implemented them. The VA is, however, expected to implement a new scheduling system in all of its medical facilities by 2021.

“The new system that’s expected to roll out in the next couple of years will be effective, but it won’t solve all of the problems,” Draper said. “They’ll have to have training, oversight and accountability, and other things all together.”