THE PAINFUL ABUSE, toxic neglect, and likely criminal misconduct at VA hospitals grew more outrageous Wednesday evening. Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee learned that 42 VA facilities now are under investigation for ignoring and mistreating their patients, sometimes fatally. Amazingly, VA personnel have been paid extra despite such malpractice.
At Phoenix’s now-notorious VA hospital, the department’s inspector general concluded, a “convoluted scheduling process” barred some 1,700 veterans from doctors’ offices. While Phoenix hospital officials claimed that vets waited just 24 days for their first appointments with primary physicians, the IG surveyed 226 vets whose average wait was 115 days, or nearly four months. At least 40 veterans dropped dead while awaiting medical care.
Notwithstanding such horrific abuse of America’s military heroes, the VA employees behind this carnage remain employed. More maddening are the financial bonuses that VA staffers have received, even as veterans suffered like abandoned dogs. A May 9 American Legion report titled “It’s Not Just Phoenix” should enrage citizens and taxpayers alike:
• Employees at Fayetteville, N.C.’s VA hospital failed to conduct follow-up suicide-prevention therapy for high-risk patients 90 percent of the time. A December 2012 audit found the facility “non-compliant” as regards dental-clinic safety and the cleanliness of patient-care spaces. Also, 56 percent of the time, doctors failed to review patient-medication information, contributing to misdiagnosis complaints. Regardless of this record, hospital director Elizabeth Goolsby scored a 2012 performance bonus of $7,604.
• The Dayton, Ohio, VA hospital’s dental clinic maintained unsanitary conditions for 18 years. Nine of its patients consequently contracted hepatitis B and C. Nonetheless, medical center director Guy Richardson won a promotion and an $11,874 bonus.
• In spite of specific complaints by The American Legion, ongoing management lapses, and a 2011 Legionnaire’s disease outbreak that sickened 20 veterans and killed six others, Pittsburgh VA hospital chief Terry Gerigk Wolf earned her $179,700 base salary, a perfect performance review, and a bonus that year of $12,924. As the Aug. 23, 2013, Washington Examiner further detailed, Wolf’s boss, regional director Michael Moreland, deposited a 2011 bonus of $15,619.
• The disability-claims backlog doubled between 2010 and 2011 in Philadelphia’s regional VA office. Still, its director, Thomas Lastowka, secured a 2011 bonus of $23,000.
• St. Louis’ VA facility has featured some 1,800 veterans exposed to HIV and hepatitis, thanks to dirty dental equipment. Patient-safety problems, including wrongful deaths, have plagued this site. So what? Between 2009 and 2013, hospital director RimaAnn Nelson took home bonuses of almost $25,000.
• In Waco, Texas, vets endure America’s longest wait times, as the processing of disability claims slowed to historic levels. However, this did not cost former regional-office director Carl Lowe his bonuses exceeding $53,000.
• VA construction chief Glenn Haggstrom managed multiple projects in Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando. They suffered multi-year delays and aggregate cost overruns of $1.5 billion. Whatever. Haggstrom was handed performance bonuses between 2009 and 2011 of $54,792.
• Despite warnings by The American Legion, protests by local veterans, and three preventable patient deaths that the VA’s inspector general tied to extensive mismanagement, Atlanta VA hospital boss James Clark saw bonuses over four years totaling $65,000.
• Columbia, S.C., VA regional director Carl Hawkins was in charge as his office doubled its backlog of disability claims and at least 95 such documents improperly were shredded. Never mind! Atop his $165,300 salary, Hawkins’ 2007 through 2011 bonuses equaled $79,275.
• Diana Rubens supervises 60 VA offices that handle disability-benefit claims. On her watch, that backlog nearly septupled. Big deal. From 2007 to 2011, she pocketed bonuses of $96,896.
The private sector does not long tolerate such staggering incompetence and malfeasance. Only in government does this “Kill a vet, get a check” ethos survive.
Veterans who have liberated innocents from Nazism, Communism, and Islamofascism deserve to be liberated from the VA. How? Former Congressman John LeBoutillier, R–N.Y., proposes this: Give veterans the same health insurance as members of Congress.
Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.