Medical Malpractice Coverups at VA Lead to New Legislation

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By on November 9, 2017 in Agency News with 0 Comments

Legislation has been introduced in the Senate to make changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs after an investigation by USA Today revealed that the agency had been concealing serious mistakes made by agency employees that were harming veterans.

According to the USA Today investigation, there were 88 cases in which one surgeon’s errors caused harm to veterans, such as when he drilled the wrong screw into the bone of one veteran and severed a critical tendon in another. Despite these serious errors and the fact that senior VA leadership knew about them, the surgeon was never fired or reported to a national database that tracks problem doctors. Instead, he was allowed to resign quietly and move into private practice.

New Legislation Introduced

“The investigation’s findings are downright shameful, and we need action immediately to ensure that the VA does not hide medical mistakes or inadequate care,” said Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)

Heller is one of two Senators who introduced the VA Provider Accountability Act, legislation that would require the VA to report major adverse actions to the National Practitioner Data Bank and state licensing boards. It will also prohibit the VA from signing settlements with fired or dismissed VA employees that allow the VA to conceal serious medical errors or purge negative records from personnel files.

The legislation is also being sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

“The vast majority of VA healthcare providers are well-trained, caring, patriots who work hard to take care of our nation’s veterans. But, just like in any healthcare system, there are bad apples. This commonsense piece of legislation ensures that incidences of malpractice do not go unreported to state licensing boards and the National Practitioner Data Bank,” said Manchin.

He added, “It also stops those who commit malpractice from receiving a settlement so they will quietly resign and become a provider outside of the VA. By imposing these oversight measures on the Department of Veterans Affairs, we are ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all Americans.”

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)

A Heavily Legislated Agency

The VA has been an agency actively targeted with legislation from Congress this year. One of the new laws is the VA Accountability Act, one that gives VA leaders more authority to remove employees for cause.

It made use of the new law in September when it fired, for the second time, the former Washington, DC medical center director for various problems at the facility. The VA had already fired him once, but was forced to reinstate him due to a stay order issued by the Merit Systems Protection Board. The new law, however, gave the agency more leeway for implementing the removal action.

Another recently enacted law is intended to help veterans navigate the VA system and challenge rejected benefit claims and is also supposed to help reduce the appeals backlog with new approaches for veterans seeking benefits. (See New Law Changing Appeals Process at the VA)

Yet another bill that was just introduced would potentially change the role of the VA in veterans’ care by expanding the use of private care facilities for veterans unable to get direct medical care from the agency. (See VA Facing Fallout from Publicity and Scandals)

It is too early to know if these new laws and efforts by Congress to reform the agency will have a positive long-term impact on veterans’ care and/or help cut down on reports such as the USA Today investigation. As long as reports of serious patient care problems at the agency continue to surface, it is likely that Congress will keep wielding its legislative authority in an effort to fix the problems.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.