Agency Spotlight-The Troubled History of the VA- Part 1

Jan 26, 2017

VA officer

history-of-vaThis two-part blog post will look at some of the issues that have plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs, and continue to do so. This post will focus on the troubled history of the VA.

Scandal and controversy have plagued the Veterans Administration since its formation. One of the first issues came about after the Revolutionary War. Congress left promised payments, to disable veterans, up to the states. Therefore, only a few thousand who served ever received anything. Below is a timeline of some of the major scandals to hit the Veterans Administration.

Timeline of Major Scandals to Hit the VA

1921—Congress created the Veterans Bureau to administer assistance to World War I veterans; however, it quickly fell into corruption and was abolished nine years later.

1930—The veterans Administration is established to replace the Veterans Bureau.

1932—Thousands of World War I veterans march on Washington to demand payment of promised wartime bonuses.

1945—President Harry Truman accepts the resignation of the VA Administrator after a series of reports of under-par care was taking place in VA-run hospitals.

1946—The American Legion leads the charge of seeking the out of the VA Administrator General Omar Bradley. There were reports of ongoing lack of facilities, troubles faced by hundreds of thousands of veterans in getting services, and proposal to limit the access to services for combat veterans.

1947—A government commission uncovers waste, duplication, and inadequate care in the VA system and calls for changes in the structure.

1955—A second government commission again finds waste and poor care in the VA system.

1970’s—Veterans grow increasingly frustrated with the VA for failing to better fund treatment and assistance programs. They later recognize exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange by troops in Vietnam as the cause for numerous medical problems among veterans.

1974—Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic led a 19-day hunger strike to protest poor treatment of veterans in VA hospitals. Just two years before, he interrupted Richard Nixon’s Presidential nomination acceptance speech by saying, “I am a Vietnam veteran. I gave America my all, and the leaders of this government threw me and others away to rot in their VA hospitals.”

1976—The General Accounting Office investigated Denver’s VA hospital and found numerous shortcomings in patient care, including surgical dressings rarely being changed. They also looked at a New Orleans VA hospital and found increasing patient loads were contributing to the decline in quality of care.

1981—Veterans camped out in front of Wadsworth Veterans Medical Center in Los Angeles after the suicide of a former Marine, who claimed the VA had failed to attend to his service-related disabilities.

1982—The VA Director Robert Nimmo described the symptoms of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange as little more than “teenage acne”. He resigned and was criticized for his wasteful spending. The agency also issued a report supporting veterans claims that the VA failed to provide them with enough information and assistance about Agent Orange exposure.

1984—Congressional investigators found evidence that VA officials diverted or refused to spend more than $40 million that Congress approved to help Vietnam veterans with readjustment problems.

1986—VA’s Inspector General’s Office found that 93 physicians who worked for the agency had sanctions against their medical licenses, including suspensions and revocations.

1989—President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which elevated the Veterans Administration to Cabinet status, creating the Department of Veterans Affairs.

1991—The Chicago Tribune reported doctors at VA’s North Chicago hospital sometimes ignored test results, failed to treat patients in a timely manner, and conducted unnecessary surgery. The agency later took responsibility for the deaths of 8 patients, which led to the suspension of most surgery at the center.

1993—A backlog of growing appeals began to grow from veterans who were denied benefits.

1999—Lawmakers opened an investigation into widespread problems with clinical research procedures at the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center. This investigation followed years of problems at the hospital, including ethical violations by hospital researchers that included failing to get consent from some patients before conducting research involving them.

2001—Despite the 1995 goal by President George W. Bush to reduce wait times for primary care and specialty care appointments to under 30 days, GAO found that veterans were still waiting more than 2 months for appointments.

2003—The Commission appointed by President George W. Bush reported that as of January 2003, 236,000 veterans had been waiting 6 months or more for their initial or follow-up visits. This is “a clear indication of the lack of sufficient capacity, or at a minimum, a lack of adequate resources to provide the required care.”

2005—An anonymous tip led to revelations of “significant problems with the quality of care” for surgical patients at the VA’s Salisbury, NC hospital. One veteran who sought treatment for a toenail injury died of heart failure after doctors failed to consider his enlarged heart.

2006—A VA employee stole sensitive records containing names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates of 26.5 million veterans. This employee didn’t have the authorization to take these records.

2007—Documents, released to CNN, showed some senior VA officials received bonuses of up to $33,000. This coming despite the backlog of hundreds of thousands of benefits cases.

2009—The VA discloses that 10,000 veterans who underwent colonoscopies in TN, GA, and FL were exposed to potential viral infections due to poorly disinfected equipment. Thirty-seven tested positive for 2 forms of Hepatitis and 6 tested positive for HIV.

2011—Nine Ohio veterans tested positive for Hepatitis after routine dental work; performed in a VA Clinic in Dayton, OH. A dentist at that medical center admitted not washing his hands or even changing gloves between patients for 18 years. Also, this same year an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease began at a VA hospital in Oakland, PA. AT least 5 veterans died of the disease over the next 2 years. IN 2013, VA records showed widespread contamination of the facility dating back to 2007.

2012—The VA finds misidentified graves of at least 120 veterans in agency run cemeteries.

2013—The former director of VA facilities in Ohio is indicted on charges that he took bribes and kickbacks to steer VA contracts to a company that does business with the agency nationwide.

2014—The scandal in Phoenix, AZ occurred where hundreds of veterans died while awaiting care.

2014-present—Hundreds of veterans still see long wait times and some die while waiting for their appointments. There are still reports of veterans being potentially infected with diseases and viruses because of unclean equipment, which will be touched on in part 2 of this post.

This is not meant to shine the VA in a negative light, rather bring light to the issues it faces. They have made improvements to become more patient-focused, but there is still a long road to ensuring that our veterans receive the best care possible.

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