When someone signs up to serve in the U.S. military, that person goes in with eyes open knowing they might be sent to a foreign field, unfriendly waters, or dangerous skies. These are our bravest citizens, and they go through extensive training. Still, once deployed they are never absolutely certain what challenge, obstacle or life-and-death circumstance awaits.
That should never be the case when it comes to veterans and their health care. The character, efficiency and overall quality of that care should always be professional, above-board, and transparent for all concerned to see.
Sadly, apparently, that has not been the case. According to a months-long investigative report from USA Today, the mistakes and ineptitude of certain “problem” doctors and surgeons within the Department of Veteran Affairs were concealed for years, and in some cases the offending doctors, like some pedophile priests in the Catholic church, were simply shepherded off to another locale, without their misdeeds or failed practices ever being properly disclosed.
A chilling example of such dereliction of duty and gross misconduct relates to the case of a podiatrist in Maine who reportedly botched one surgery after another. The doctor, who was described during a court deposition as a “dangerous surgeon,” is said to have drilled the wrong screw into the foot of one veteran, and severed a critical tendon in another. He cut into patients who didn’t need surgery at all, and twice he failed to properly fuse the ankle of a woman who broke it during Army boot camp. The woman, April Wood, ended up having her leg amputated rather than endure the pain.
Rather than fire the doctor responsible, or report him to a national database that tracks problem doctors, VA officials allowed him to resign and quietly move on to private practice, then failed for years to disclose his past to his patients and state regulators who licensed him. According to USA Today, he now works as a podiatrist in New York City.
In the last decade the VA — the nation’s largest employer of health care workers — has been rocked by one embarrassing scandal after another, in regard to treatment and even basic wait times for veteran patients with serious, even life-threatening ailments.
These latest revelations, however, could be the most shameful to come to light. They involve not just widespread incompetence and shoddy care for veterans, but cover-ups involving the purging of negative reports from personnel files. USA Today reviewed hundreds of confidential VA records, including some 230 secret settlement deals never before seen by the public.
“What they are saying is, ‘We don’t want you to work for us, but we’ll help you get a job elsewhere.’ That’s outrageous,” said Michael Carome, a doctor and director of the health research group at Public Citizen in Washington.
The outrage should be palpable to us all, and should raise that familiar question once again: How long will our veterans have to wait before they are treated, across the board, with the same dignity and respect with which they so honorably served our country?
What should be made absolutely clear to our veterans and their families, and backed up by action, is that once they complete their service they will have access to first-rate medical treatment, when and wherever they need it, by doctors and nurses who are professionals, and who have only their best interests at heart.
We, as a nation, should offer them no less.
— The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)