Update: President Trump participated in a VA telehealth event for veterans to cut down on the wait time and meet with VA doctors faster. Whatch the video below:
In 2014, the country was shocked to hear about secret waiting lists and veterans dying while waiting for medical care that they had long ago earned.
But three years later, the situation doesn't seem to be any better. Substandard care, misinformation, long wait times and patient deaths are still plaguing the VA health care system, despite what the VA touts as "bold action" to correct the problem.
Just last month, the VA hospital in Manchester, NH was in the spotlight after 11 physicians and other hospital employees filed whistleblower complaints alleging serious wrong doing and patient endangerment.
And this particular VA facility is supposed to be one of the finest in the country, being awarded 4 out of 5 possible stars last year.
According to an article in the Boston Globe, which first reported on the story, the US Office of the Special Counsel "has already found a 'substantial likelihood' of legal violations, gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, and a danger to public health, according to a January letter to one of the doctors who alleged wrongdoing."
The article told of several veterans who waited months for care and complained when they didn't get it and were ignored by hospital administration.
It also detailed other serious concerns such as an operating room that had to be abandoned because it was infested with flies and surgical instruments that were supposedly sterile being stained with rust or blood.
In response to the article in the Globe, VA Secretary Shulkin took "immediate actions" according to a press release from the department.
It said in part, "The VA Office of the Medical Inspector and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection are being sent in beginning Monday to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Manchester VAMC, including all allegations in the article."
It continued, "In addition, effective immediately, the department has removed the director and chief of staff at the facility, pending the outcome of the review."
Dr. Shulkin said:
"These are serious allegations, and we want our Veterans and our staff to have confidence in the care we’re providing. I have been clear about the importance of transparency, accountability and rapidly fixing any and all problems brought to our attention, and we will do so immediately with these allegations."
Before stepping down when the scandal broke in 2014, then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said, "I can’t explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities."
Yet three years later, the problem clearly remains, and not just as this facility.
Last year, more than three dozen whistleblowers came forward with complaints about the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati, claiming issues with patient safety and intentional budget cuts that reduced access to care. One of the whistleblowers was later fired for his persistent allegations.
Secretary Shulkin seems to be serious about fixing the problems, something that would be a welcome change for veterans.
The chief of staff for the Cincinnati hospital was removed in April 2017, and is facing possible criminal charges. She characterizes her firing as retribution from Secretary Shulkin.
Then there is the Phoenix VA Medical Center, the one that started it all. Three years and seven directors later, that facility still rates just 1 out of 5 stars.
In January 2017, a report was released that stated the Phoenix VA "continues to struggle with significant patient wait times, according to confirmed whistleblower disclosures."
The same report also told of veterans who experienced harm and one who died because they did not receive care in a timely manner. In one case, a cardiovascular patient "waited in excess of 300 days for vascular care."
This has led to some veterans simply becoming fed up with living in pain and taking their own lives outside of VA medical centers.
Just last week, a 70-year-old man shot himself outside of the Thomas E. Creek VA Medical Center in Amarillo, TX. Sadly, he isn't alone.
In March, a 62-year-old Navy Veteran was found outside a North Carolina VA facility, six days after taking his own life.
A young man killed himself outside of the VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, after leaving a YouTube video, detailing the problems he had dealt with and the lack of help he received.
On average, more than 20 veterans per day commit suicide. While the VA claims to be doing everything it can to reduce this number, perhaps the best thing it can do is simply provide veterans with the quality health care they've earned.