Editorial: Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald should answer VA questions

Editorial: Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald should answer VA questions
Posted at 3:34 PM, Aug 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 15:34:26-04

On Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald will make his first public appearance here since February, when WCPO and a group of VA whistleblowers revealed some disturbing problems at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.

We hope McDonald finally addresses those issues head-on, and comes with specific recommendations to fix them.

In February, WCPO and the Scripps Washington Bureau documented a series of problems at the Cincinnati VA involving cost cutting, managerial misconduct and quality of care.

They were brought to light by a group of 34 whistleblowers, who alleged hospital leaders forced out experienced surgeons and allowed patient care to suffer.

Read WCPO's full VA coverage here.

They were, and are, serious allegations about the quality of care veterans here receive. Six months after those allegations came out, Secretary McDonald has yet to specifically answer the questions raised or to personally visit the Cincinnati medical center to investigate.

That’s puzzling, because some of the questions involve problems that are also felt system-wide in the VA. The Cincinnati whistleblowers said the local VA leadership intentionally reduced services in critical areas such as neurosurgery and orthopedics to force veterans into a program called Veterans Choice, in order to make the Cincinnati hospital's budget look better.

Cincinnati VA Medical Center

The Choice program was approved by Congress and permits veterans to find their own doctors if they face long wait times at VA facilities. It was a reform passed after the VA scandal originating in Phoenix, in which veterans died while on waiting lists for VA care.

But the Choice program turned out to be more of the same, as veterans have complained about long wait times, unmanageable red tape and little coordination of care.

And here in Cincinnati, doctors and others told us that the leadership here trimmed costs by cutting out needed medical services and directing patients to the Choice program.

On top of that, the WCPO investigation found disturbing claims about dirty surgical instruments and other irregularities that have no place in any hospital.

Leadership changes at the local VA followed. The medical center is about to name its second director since the scandal was revealed. The chief of staff was demoted and a new face, Dr. Elizabeth Brill, took over in May.

Those changes may have been necessary, but this investigation and the claims of these 34 whistleblowers deserve the attention of Secretary McDonald himself, a Cincinnatian and a veteran.

He’ll have that opportunity Wednesday here, and on a national stage, while addressing the national American Legion convention.

Veterans here and nationwide who are dependent on the VA for health care deserve to know that these serious questions are being addressed by the top VA leadership.