Indiana doesn’t face the sort of problems that other Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics apparently have.
And even as the focus on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mounts in the wake of Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation Friday, May 30, no blatant care issues have surfaced here. Not up till now, anyway, according to U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski.
"Thus far, Indiana has not been implicated,” she said Friday, May 30.
That said, Walorski, a Republican from the Elkhart area, noted that she had asked the VA to look into the death last December of a veteran from the 2nd District, the north central Indiana U.S. House district she serves. The veteran was receiving care from a VA facility and the agency is reviewing the treatment provided to determine if negligence factored in the case.
And, as the clamoring increases for reform in the VA, she favors moves to audit all VA hospitals and clinics around the country, including those in Indiana. "I think it’s the right thing, to look at every single hospital, every single clinic,” she said.
Questions have been increasing about the care veterans receive at VA facilities in recent weeks, and things reached a crescendo Wednesday after the release of a preliminary report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General. The report, focused on issues at a Phoenix, Ariz., facility, found that “significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality care at this medical facility.”
Calls had been increasing for Shinseki to resign and, after the backlash from Wednesday’s report, he stepped down Friday.
VA CULTURE MUST CHANGE
Nearby VA facilities include the Goshen and South Bend community outpatient clinics.
On May 23, ahead of Memorial Day, Walorski, who’s pushed hard on the issue of quality of care at VA facilities, visited the South Bend clinic. She spoke informally with the veterans who happened to be there, receiving positive reports about the care they’ve received.
"The majority of the veterans in there say they love to go to South Bend for service,” she said. Those with whom she spoke indicated they were satisfied, she said, and didn’t report unusual wait times to get attention.
Likewise, a VA spokesman for northern Indiana, Michael Brady, said in an email Friday that there’s no indication that patients using VA facilities in the state face extraordinarily long delays in getting attention, as charged at other facilities.
Still, Walorski is firm in her belief that all VA facilities need to be audited for the quality of care. After Wednesday’s report, Shinseki called for probes into all VA health care facilities, Walorski said, though Brady knows of no planned investigations here.
At the same time, U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats and Walorski were united in saying VA reform efforts shouldn’t stop with Shinseki’s resignation. While praising Shinseki’s service, they all welcomed his departure.
“This resignation, by itself, fixes nothing,” Coats said in a statement. “I fully support continued investigations to make sure we identify and hold responsible those who have falsified records and neglected patient care. The culture of the VA must change, and we need to look at solutions outside of government-run facilities.”
In light of reports that VA officials manipulated patients’ appointment records so care delays didn’t seem so long, Walorski called for a criminal investigation into apparent corruption in the department. Donnelly said veterans “deserve better than the bureaucratic nightmare” they face at facilities in Phoenix and elsewhere.
'JUST REALLY HEARTBREAKING’
Walorski attributed the intense attention the VA issue has received of late to the increasing reports of questionable care at VA facilities. In her case, she was particularly moved after hearing testimony of Barry Coats, an Army veteran who didn’t receive a needed colonoscopy in timely fashion, thus delaying treatment.
"This neglect that is going on is going to cost him his life,” she said in the interview Friday. She went on: “It’s just really heartbreaking. I think it’s things like that that continue to light the fire.”