Confused VA failed to report potentially dangerous doctors, may have put lives at risk, watchdog says

The Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire for possibly putting lives at risk after a government watchdog report revealed that it failed to report 90 percent of potentially dangerous medical providers in recent years.

According to the Government of Accountability Office (GAO) report, which was released on Monday, the VA is required to report providers to a national database designed to prevent them from crossing state lines and endangering other patients. However, based on a sampling of 148 providers at five unidentified VA hospitals who required review, officials had only reported nine health care workers since 2014, and none had been reported to state licensing boards.

The GAO noted that much of the failed reporting came as a result of confusion about VA policies and responsibilities, as well as months or years-long delays in the review process. For instance, in cases involving 16 providers, the process was not started until after more than three months had passed.

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Service chiefs were not made aware of the reviews for up to 13 months after the incidents, during which three of the providers had an additional “concerning episode of care.” The report also noted a lack of knowledge regarding required documentation of medical care.

“At one facility, we found that officials failed to report six providers to the (national database) because the officials were unaware that they had been delegated responsibility for … reporting,” the GAO said.

One case involved a doctor who resigned while under review for misconduct, but was not reported to a state licensing board. The doctor was later hired at a non-VA facility within the same state, only to be disciplined for the same unreported misconduct that had prompted the initial review.

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“Until Veterans Health Administration (VHA) strengthens its oversight of these processes, veterans may be at increased risk of receiving unsafe care through the VA health care system,” the report said.

A hearing on the GAO findings lead by the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is scheduled for Wednesday, while the VA has pledged to increase oversight of reporting by regional officials.

The report follows a USA Today investigation that alleged years of misconduct and mistakes by health care workers that went overlooked or unreported by the VA. The VA has about 150 hospitals nationwide.