A new investigative report by the Arizona Republic newspaper has found that officials in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whitewashed a report by the VA’s Inspector General regarding the depth, breadth, and scope of the healthcare access scandal that resulted in the deaths of at least 40 veterans in Phoenix alone.
According to the news article:
During a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing Tuesday, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., challenged the language in the OIG report, suggesting it downplayed the effects of long-standing VA delays in delivering care to ailing veterans.
“I don’t want to give the VA a pass on this, and that’s exactly what this line does,” Heller said to Dr. John Daigh, assistant inspector general for health-care inspections. “It exonerates the VA of any responsibility in past manipulation of these … wait times.”
Based on the OIG’s cause-of-death conclusion, many media outlets cast the investigative report as vindication for the VA and as refutation of Arizona whistle-blower claims.
A Washington Post article was headlined, “Overblown claims of death and waiting times at the VA.” The Associated Press report, which appeared in publications nationwide, was titled, “IG: Shoddy care by VA didn’t cause Phoenix deaths.”
That spin on the story first circulated a day earlier when a copy of the VA’s response to the OIG investigation was leaked before release of the report. The key talking point: “It is important to note that OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”
Inspector general reports are typically circulated to agency bosses prior to publication, providing an opportunity to correct errors and suggest changes.
More than a week before the Phoenix investigation was released, TheRepublic learned that a dispute had arisen over standard-of-proof language that was being pushed by VA administrators to downplay deaths in Phoenix.
OIG investigators corroborated virtually every major allegation of wrongdoing submitted by the two whistle-blowers. Nevertheless, the report and congressional briefing papers contain passages that appear to criticize Foote and his credibility, emphasizing that “the whistle-blower did not provide us with a list of 40 patient names.” The passage referred to VA patients Foote said died while awaiting care in Phoenix.
In interviews and a written rebuttal, Foote said the portion of the report about him is “false and misleading” because he and other whistle-blowers provided 24 names to inspectors and explained where in VA records to identify 16 more.
Another part of the VA report acknowledged that Foote had supplied at least 17 names and that others could not be traced because documentation had been destroyed by VA employees.
Read the full Arizona Republic news report here: