The suspicious deaths of 10 veterans at a clinic in Clarksburg, W.Va., has prompted federal lawmakers to finally pursue stricter oversight from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to address issues that have imperiled patient health.
These reforms are long overdue. A growing body of evidence indicates that systemic flaws have led to regional V.A. health facilities hiring unqualified doctors whose medical licenses have been revoked or suspended.
This issue has been known for some time. A 2018 inspector general report uncovered that an anesthesiologist at the V.A. Medical Center in Altoona, Pa., was administering too much anesthetic for outpatient procedures in 17 out of 20 patients. The facility had not been monitoring drug levels when assessing the anesthesiologist’s job performance. Similarly, a Government Accountability Office report from earlier this year found that V.A. employees at some facilities were not trained to verify the credentials of physicians and other medical staff.
That veterans seeking treatment at some V.A. facilities were subjected to “care” from personnel lacking in credentials and competence is a disgrace.
It is also shocking that these prior incidents did not motivate Congress to act. It was only after the start of a federal criminal investigation into the deaths of 10 people caused by unnecessary injections of insulin that legislators could find the willpower to start moving on this issue. (Investigators are still working to determine if the person or people connected to the deaths at the Louis A. Johnson V.A. Medical Center in Clarksburg were properly credentialed.)
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee recently started moving things in the right direction by unanimously approving the Improving Confidence in Veterans’ Care Act. The legislation would require the V.A. to annually audit medical centers and deliver the results to Congress over each of the next five years. It would also require the V.A. to train staff to ensure the veracity of credentials and more robust performance reviews.
The lawmakers might consider going further before the bill is voted on by the rest of Congress. John Daigh, the assistant inspector general for health-care inspections, has recommended even more intensive overhauls, including direct observation, to ensure that V.A. staff have the competency to perform their duties.
This process would be costly, but the well-being of U.S. veterans — the men and women who put their lives at stake to defend the country and its people — are well worth the expense. The proposed reforms cannot be allowed to fall the way of so many other bright ideas, not when health and lives are at stake.