New report details poor management and care at VA

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," June 24, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

STUART VARNEY, GUEST HOST: It's worse than anyone thought, an explosive new report blaming shoddy care for the deaths of up to 1,000 veterans, nearly a billion dollars paid out for medical malpractice.

The senator exposing it all is here.

Welcome, everyone. I'm Stuart Varney, in for Neil Cavuto. And this is "Your World."

It's all contained in this 123-page report just released by Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn, and the title says it all, "Friendly-Fire, Death, Delay, and Dismay at the VA." It does not paint a pretty picture of what our veterans are going through, historic wait times at VA hospitals, billions of wasted dollars, widespread criminal activity, excessive salaries and bonuses for VA workers, whistle-blowers facing fear of retaliation, and the list goes on and on.

The report also takes a swipe at Congress for not doing enough to stop it. Senator Coburn authored that report. He joins me now in this first on FOX.

Senator, welcome to the program, sir.

SEN. TOM COBURN , R-OKLA.: Well, thank you, Stuart.

VARNEY: Beyond -- this obviously goes beyond long wait times. Let's go through the list of what you found in this report. Widespread criminal activity, what's that, sir?

COBURN: Well, it's anything from harassing patients to overutilization of police, of stealing veterans' things, to rape, to accosting patients, to ignoring patients, all criminal activities.

VARNEY: So you're talking about the standard of care, that what's happening to our veterans when they go in the VA system. You also say billions, plural, of wasted dollars. What's that?

COBURN: Well, here's how you can look at it is, just on four hospitals, we're $1.3 billion over on the construction of four VA hospitals. And the GSA has allowed the Veterans Administration, the contract authority, to do that.

And they're behind schedule. We just finished one in Nevada and the problems staffing it are -- are unbelievable. We can't do -- seem to do anything in an efficient, effective manner, with few exceptions, at a lot of the VA organizations in this country.

VARNEY: Well...

COBURN: And it's because of poor management. Poor management is the problem. It's not money. It's not access to available facilities. It's lack of management.

VARNEY: Is it also a function of government? When the government tries to do these complex things like deliver health care, are you a critic of government being able to do that efficiently?

COBURN: Well, no, not really, because, in certain areas -- for example, you take the close head trauma, traumatic brain injury, prosthetics, the VA leads the world in a lot of that stuff. So I'm not critical of them generally.

But I will just give you a for example. There's 23,000 P.A.s and primary care physicians in the VA system. On average, they have -- they care for on average about 280 patients per year per provider. The private sector cares for about six times that.

So the question has to be is why -- if there's not any appointments available for veterans, why not, when they're seeing one-fourth to one- sixth as many patients?

VARNEY: Yes, sir. What is the Congress doing about this?

COBURN: Well, I stepped out of a conference committee meeting to speak with you. I don't know that we will do anything, because what you're hearing is platitudes and what we have to do. But what needs to happen is real change within the VA, which means you change the rules for federal employees working in the VA.

You give managers the ability to fire. You hold managers accountable for performance and outcome. Just remember, Stuart, if they will cheat on the data associated with appointments, they will cheat on quality data and outcome data. So the fact is, is we need real transparency at the VA, real management, and real accountability.

And we have none of that now.

VARNEY: But, Senator, it sounds like we need fast action. It also sounds like you're saying, we're not going to get it.

COBURN: Well, I don't know that. We will wait and see.

I certainly won't be voting for any conference report that doesn't fix the real problem and, again, lets Congress off the hook to say they did something, spent a bunch of money and not hold people accountable.

VARNEY: You are retiring, sir.


VARNEY: Some people -- I know. Some people have said you should consider becoming VA secretary. Would you consider that?

COBURN: Well, I wouldn't consider -- nobody should consider becoming VA secretary unless Congress fixes and gives the secretary the ability to manage this 260,000-person organization.

And I don't see that happening yet.

VARNEY: If you were given that, would you take the job?

COBURN: Oh, I certainly would think about it, but I think that's putting the cart way before the horse.

I probably couldn't get through the Senate.


VARNEY: I just want to pick out one thing that was right at the front of your report. And it's a quote from Abraham Lincoln. This is the motto of the department of Veterans Affairs. I'm quoting directly. "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan."

You put that at the front of your report, didn't you?

COBURN: Yes. We're failing.


Senator Tom Coburn, thanks for taking time out on a busy day, sir.

COBURN: You bet.


VARNEY: We do appreciate it. Thank you.

COBURN: You bet.

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