A recent report by Fox News exposed a simmering scandal at the Shreveport VA hospital, where, according to a whistleblower, more than 2,900 veterans are waiting to see non-VA doctors, which is their right under the Veterans Choice Program. Three years ago, clinical social worker Shea Wilkes revealed a secret wait-list of 2,700 veterans seeking appointments at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. Thirty-seven of those vets died while waiting for medical care. Mr. Wilkes has since discovered a new but equally disturbing backlog of 2,900 veterans waiting to see an outside doctor. Mr. Wilkes wrote President Trump last September 17 to express his fear that there will be more deaths, claiming that “Scheduling manipulations and secret wait lists for care in the VA have not been corrected.”
Repercussions from Mr. Wilkes’ letter have been felt at the VA, where “leaders at the hospital have been working non-stop trying to get the numbers down.” Repercussions have also been felt in Washington, prompting President Trump to sign the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017. The act infused $2.1 billion into the Choice Program and added flexibility in the hiring and training of VA employees.
One problem with the Choice Program, as Mr. Wilkes points out, is that a veteran still requires a referral to see an outside doctor, and the request gets shuttled through endless channels. However, as someone who was previously hounded by Inspectors General for pointing out flaws in the VA system, Mr. Wilkes sees a welcome change in the way management treated his recent complaint. According to the Fox report, “For the first time ever, they didn’t hem and haw or try to deny it,” Wilkes said. “They went through my letter talking about how they were going to fix it. It was pretty shocking. They told me what they had done so far and what they were doing in the future.” The new responsiveness included “dozens of employees, including managers, work[ing] overtime on the weekend trying to help the veterans on the list.”
Although it’s never good to hear that veterans are having difficulty accessing healthcare, we are heartened to hear of a positive response to Mr. Wilkes’ whistleblowing activity. Abuses at the VA have persisted for decades because of a lack of will to make necessary changes. We hope that these early signs indicate a lasting commitment to make the system work for every one of our deserving veterans.
If you or a veteran you love has trouble accessing VA benefits, Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban is prepared to help anywhere in the United States. Call us at 866-866-VETS or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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