Just when you think that the VA hospitals couldn’t do worse by veterans, news breaks that thousands of patient records in Buffalo and Batavia were misplaced or damaged.
The files at issue include cardiac records, dental records and Agent Orange registry records. Some records were randomly thrown into boxes, many Social Security numbers were not attributed to the correct veteran and mold-infested files were not handled properly.
Whenever a doctor wanted to see a patient’s records, someone had to dive into a morass of papers. More often than not, the veteran’s records were deemed unavailable.
Just a few months ago reports surfaced that the Buffalo VA hospital mistakenly reused insulin pens, possibly exposing hundreds of diabetic patients to infectious diseases.
VA patients put their lives on the line to serve their country, and they’re being treated worse than second-class citizens.
Clearly, something has to be done. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, has joined in a growing congressional call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, wrote a letter asking for a meeting with the VA secretary.
The heroes in this messy situation are four whistle-blowers, medical records technicians in Western New York – Leon Davis III, Cathleen A. Manna, Tracy Harrison and Pamela G. Hess-Wellspeak. These people persevered despite bureaucratic obstacles and numerous runarounds that would have discouraged most. But not them, thankfully.
The four worked desperately to get the situation corrected. They were forced to work their way up the chain of command in what looks like a game of pass the buck. The complaints finally reached Jason Petti, associate medical center director of the VA hospitals in Western New York. Inexplicably, Petti, who was asked by his superior on Jan. 27, 2012, to look into the matter, reported back later that same day that he had completed his investigation, and found nothing to substantiate the whistle-blowers’ concerns.
A lot of people might have given up at this point, but the whistle-blowers took their concerns to the Office of Special Counsel, which contacted the VA secretary, who asked the undersecretary for health to investigate. An investigation finally substantiated most of the allegations and made seven recommendations.
The VA claims to have acted on those recommendations, and we hope that’s true. However, there was little effort to set an example that would discourage future problems. The woman in charge of record keeping received merely a “written counseling.” Petti, who spent less than a day on the complaints, was exonerated and told he responded quickly to the problems and provided appropriate oversight. Remarkable.
But for the dogged work by the four VA employees, this shameful problem would still be going on. The VA has to commit to finding problems and fixing them immediately. The standard has to be proper treatment of our veterans.