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The Veterans Affairs Scandal and More #MuckReads on VA Health Care

A roundup of in-depth reporting on the chronic problems facing the VA health system.

The scandal surrounding long wait times within the Veterans Affairs' health care system has garnered national attention as VA secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amidst growing opposition to his leadership. To help make sense of the institutional problems that led to the scandal, we've compiled some of the best reporting about chronic issues of mismanagement in the VA.

If you have any articles to add to the list, let us know in the comments section or tweet us with #MuckReads.

Waiting in Phoenix and beyond

A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital's secret list, CNN, April 2014

CNN reported in late April that at least 40 U.S. veterans may have died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system in Arizona. Hundreds of veterans were placed on "a secret waiting list" outside of the VA's primary electronic booking system, according to Sam Foote, a retired VA doctor. Patients were kept off the real waiting list for months until they could be seen, the doctor told CNN, giving the appearance that wait times were actually improving. CNN reported in January on the deaths of at least 19 veterans due to delays on "simple screenings like colonoscopies or endoscopies, at various VA hospitals or clinics." The Arizona Republic first reported Foote's claims on April 10.

IG: Inappropriate scheduling 'systemic' throughout VA hospitals nationwide, Stars and Stripes, May 2014
The VA's inspector general confirmed at least 1,700 "invisible" veterans at the Phoenix VA hadn't been added to official waitlists. However, the report said it was unclear whether the wait time led to patient deaths.

Interactive: Major Reports and Testimony on V.A. Patient Wait Times, New York Times, May 2014

The Times tracked complaints about wait times documented by federal agencies over the past 15 years. For an alternative visual guide of more recent mismanagement issues, Veterans advocacy group American Legion also mapped comprehensive a history of VA health care mismanagement across the country within the last two years.

Texas VA run like a 'Crime Syndicate', Daily Beast, May 2014

Emails and memos reveal manipulated wait times in the Texas VA system, and how executives may be incentivized to hide lag times. "You cannot do this!!!!" wrote one VA executive in an email to colleagues. "This is essentially fraud. The desired date is what it is and if we don't meet the standard then we will work to improve."

VA whistleblower says officials tried to silence him, Austin American-Statesman, May 2014

Scheduling clerk Brian Turner said he started reporting issues with manipulated wait times to Texas VA officials in late April. According to Turner, he was ordered to "stop emailing or asking about VA scheduling practices." After the story broke, Turner said VA officials pressured him to stop speaking to the media and told another newspaper that he had retracted his story.


Submitted by @JinATX



Interactive: Waiting for Help, Stars and Stripes and Center for Investigative Reporting, May 2013

This interactive tracks and maps the number of veterans' disability benefits claims backlogged across the country. CIR's dataset includes the number of vets awaiting treatment, their average wait time and the number of claims completed per VA employee at by city, among other data points. All of the data is available by API through CIR's data dashboard.

A Troubled History

How the VA developed its culture of cover ups, Washington Post, May 2014

As part of a broader series that explores the failures of federal bureaucracy, The Washington Post delves into the story of how the VA went from a clockwork bureaucracy to the organization where employees were regularly asked to "zero out" wait times.

The Lobotomy Files, Wall Street Journal,December 2013

During World War II, the VA performed lobotomies on over 2,000 mentally ill veterans, according to memos uncovered by the Journal. The practice was known among medical circles as one of the few ways to treat mental illness in the 1940s and 50s. When performing lobotomies, doctors severed connections in parts of the brain then thought to control emotions. While this sometimes helped, the operation also often caused amnesia, seizures, and loss of motor skills among those who survived the surgery.

The VA's troubled history, CNN May 2014

CNN provides a comprehensive review of VA health care scandals since its inception. Some of the most recent scandals include an outbreak of a respiratory disease that went unreported in a Pittsburgh VA and 10,000 veterans who were exposed to potential viral infections due to poorly cleaned equipment in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

A Shortage of Resources

The VA faces a surge of disability claims, New York Times, July 2009

As the economy flagged, a wave of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan flooded the VA with thousands of disability claims, including at least one that took as long as 18 months to process. Some veterans' advocates told the Times in 2009 that the number of unprocessed claims was as high as 1 million, a figure that included non-health claims and appeals.

Making our heroes wait, Washington Examiner, December 2013

This five-part investigative series delves into why the disabilities claims backlog has been growing despite Shinseki's promise to clear the pileup, which dates back to Vietnam-era claims, by 2015.


Submitted by @DCPeebles



VA's opiate overload feeds veterans' addictions, overdose deaths, Center for Investigative Reporting, September 2013

As veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan with various degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder, the VA has responded with a slew of drug cocktails to treat them. CIR found that prescriptions for four opiates shot up 270 percent at VA hospitals in the last 12 years, and visualized the concentration of prescriptions across the country. A court mentor in Oklahoma, where the local VA prescribed a record of 1.6 opiates per patient from 2001-2012, said some vets had to wait months for treatment of their root pain.

Suicide rate for veterans far exceeds that of civilian population, Public Integrity and News 21, May 2014

The suicide rate of veterans in various states was sometimes double or even triple the civilian suicide rate, according to an analysis of state mortality data. The VA implemented a Veterans Crisis Line to help address the issue in 2007, after Congress enacted a law requiring the VA to develop a comprehensive suicide prevention program. Since then, the hotline has seen increases in calls every year. In response to the rising demand, President Obama signed an executive order to double the capacity of the crisis line last August.

To read more on mental trauma in the military and its effects on the everyday lives of veterans, check out our roundup of best reporting on mental health issues in the military.

Doctor Shortage Is Cited in Delays at V.A. HospitalsNew York Times, May 2014

The VA is trying to fill 400 vacancies in primary care to supplement its roster of 5,100 primary care physicians, the Times reports. The severe shortage of doctors available to treat the aging veteran population as well as younger vets from Iraq and Afghanistan may be at the heart of the VA scandal both at Phoenix and across the country.

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