Outrageous reports continue to seep out of the VA medical care scandal, providing further evidence that American veterans at the mercy of this system have been victims of far worse than just incompetence.
Two recent items, one of them from just down the road, are separate parts of the same ugly story. One is about Veterans Affairs officials getting rewards they don't deserve; the other is about VA workers not facing consequences they manifestly deserve.
The first story, of course, is last week's teeth-grinding revelation that almost 80 percent of senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs got performance bonuses last year.
Let that one sink in a moment -- (ITAL)performance(END ITAL) bonuses, which the Associated Press reports added up to some $2.7 million of our money. The good news: That's down from about $3.4 million in bonuses to VA officials the year before. The bad news: Neither year's total includes what AP reports were "tens of millions" in bonuses to physicians and other direct providers.
Even conceding the likelihood that dedicated front-line professionals, and probably even a few conscientious VA execs, earned their rewards, how in the name of all that's sane do 80 percent of this demonstrably dysfunctional department's executives merit financial rewards for job performance?
Meanwhile, in nearby Montgomery, the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System -- with outpatient clinics in Columbus and Tuskegee -- was cited in a letter to President Obama as failing to address whistleblower complaints. U.S. Attorney Carolyn Lerner of the Office of Special Counsel wrote that this failure was "part of a troubling pattern of deficient patient care at VA facilities nationwide."
The VA's Office of Medical Inspector has confirmed a whistleblower allegation that more than 1,200 patient records were falsified when a pulmonologist simply copied and pasted reports from prior examinations onto new documents and presented them as current diagnoses, and that this medical fraud went on over a two- to three-year period. The breathtakingly irresponsible disregard of patient health should be obvious to even the casual lay observer.
That pulmonologist, and other medical personnel likewise known to have presented old patient records as current ones, remain with the VA because the agency said it couldn't find any adverse health effects. Attorney Lerner's letter to the president said the VA concedes the problems but says patient care is not affected.
Seriously? Falsified medical records don't constitute an effect on patient care?
In this instance, as with fabricated appointments and cancellations meant to conceal unconscionably long wait times for veterans seeking care, the root of the problem is not mere bureaucratic bungling or record-keeping errors by overworked staffers. These were conscious decisions by people charged with the direct delivery of health care. They go unpunished for gross medical malfeasance, while the execs in the offices get bonuses.
This is hardly a recipe for reform.