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VA accused of misleading Congress on veteran deaths

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U.S. President Barack Obama announces his choice of former Procter & Gamble Chief Executive Bob McDonald, (R) an Army veteran, as his nominee to be the next secretary of veterans affairs at the VA in Washington June 30, 2014. If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald would be tasked with repairing the Veterans Administration after widespread evidence of delays in military veterans getting healthcare at VA facilities. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY HEALTH) - RTR3WJ27

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) allegedly misled Congress on the number of veteran deaths in its health care system, adding to a growing list of untruths that VA has told congressmen trying to investigate the scandal-plagued department.

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs, chaired by Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, is the latest victim of VA’s dishonesty.

VA provided the committee an April 7, 2014 fact sheet purporting to show all of the cases of delays and preventable veteran deaths it oversaw in its gastrointestinal care in the last fifteen years.

“As a result of the consult delay issue VA discovered at two of our medical centers, VHA continues to conduct a national review of consults across the system, which includes a review of all consults since 1999,” according to the fact sheet.

“During this review, VA looked at all open since 1999 to ensure that proper care has been administered to patients. Within this time frame over a quarter billion consults were requested in VA,” the fact sheet stated.

VA found 76 cases of delays and 24 deaths (up from its original count of 23) on gastrointestinal cases in its entire health care system, apparently since 1999.

“Based on findings from a system-wide review of high interest consults and new cases of gastrointestinal malignancy, VA identified 76 cases in our health care system for whom institutional disclosures were provided or attempted,” the fact sheet stated.

But only in a July letter to the committee did VA finally admit that its numbers were based only on an isolated 2010-2012 survey of some cases.

“VA is in receipt of a letter from Chairman Miller on this topic and will respond directly to the Chairman’s office,” VA spokesman Randall Noller told The Daily Caller, referring to a letter the committee sent to VA questioning its numbers.

This is certainly not the first time that VA has been dishonest to Congress about its practices. Ever since TheDC’s February report caught VA destroying patient medical records, and subsequent reports about handwritten secret waiting lists at VA facilities, the beleaguered department has seemingly gone out of its way to obstruct congressional investigation. After compiling some more documents, we’ve come up with five more recent examples of VA dishonesty:

1. Lied About Cause of Veteran Deaths in Pittsburgh

VA Acting Under Secretary for Health Robert L. Jesse and another top official lied about the cause of a Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak that killed veterans in Pittsburgh, according to a June 18, 2014 letter from Rep. Miller:

“During your February 2013 testimony to this Committee, you stated that the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System’s copper-silver ionization system ‘may have failed to consistently prevent Legionella growth.’ Further, as recently as March of 2013, VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System Director and Chief Executive Officer Terry Gerigk Wolf was quoted in the press blaming VA Pittsburgh’s copper-silver ionization system for the Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak.”

“However, a December 2012 internal VA report, which was ordered by former VA Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel and distributed to top VA Central Office officials, found that human error – not faulty equipment – led to the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak…[Two top federal VA officials] knew of the findings in the December 2012 report.”

2. Lied About Falsifying Records in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan said that VA officials “looked me in the eye and lied to me” about record falsification at two VA health sites in Pennsylvania, including one in Philadelphia. Meehan said in a July 30, 2014 statement following the release of an inspector general report:

“I visited these facilities and I was repeatedly assured that the activities described in this report had not occurred. I very specifically asked whether there was any evidence of deliberate falsification of data, manipulation of appointment dates or any other attempts to intentionally cook the books. The VA leadership present told me none of it occurred. This report proves they looked me in the eye and lied to me.”

“At every turn, the VA has thwarted any attempt of honest, effective oversight. The basis of any relationship is trust, but the misrepresentations made by the VA in Philadelphia have demonstrated a culture of cover-up and deceit. I expect the VA to identify those responsible. They should lose their positions of trust within the VA bureaucracy.”

3. Top Official Lied on Background Checks

Rep. Miller wrote a June 13, 2014 letter to VA Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson detailing lies made by a top health-care official on employee background checks.

“It has come to my attention that Sheila Cullen, the director of the VA Sierra Pacific Network (VISN 21), which consists of fifty sites of care serving over one million veterans, lied multiple times on federal background checks and applications for promotion regarding her employment at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

4. ‘Dishonest’ About Wait Times in the Pacific Islands System 

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard wrote a June 13, 2014 letter to Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson claiming “dishonesty” on the part of Wayne Pfeffer, director of the Pacific Islands Health Care System (PIHCS):

“The VA PIHCS leadership recently provided information to me on new enrollee wait times, and implementation of the Accelerating Access to Care Initiative in the PIHCS,” Gabbard wrote. “The information and responses I received from Mr. Pfeffer, a man with 40 years of VA service, were dishonest, lacked transparency, and showed a level of incompetence that should not exist in the VA.”

5. Lied About Firing Employees in Alabama

Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System director James Talton told Alabama Republican Rep. Martha Roby that employees who falsified records to cover up long patient wait times were fired. But in June 2014 it was revealed that the employees were not fired. Roby said she was “misled.”

“I have now learned that wasn’t true. No one has been fired. That means the employees responsible for falsifying wait list records are still working at the VA in Alabama,” Roby said in a statement.

“Director Talton apologized for what he called a ‘misunderstanding’ over him repeatedly saying employees had been ‘relieved of their duties.’ However, the unmistakable tenor of Friday’s conversation and his failure to correct the record after three days of saturating news coverage tell me this wasn’t a misunderstanding at all. I believe I was misled,” Roby stated.

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