Forty Veterans Die While Waiting for Medical Treatment at Phoenix VA System

It’s no secret that veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces face innumerable challenges every day of their postwar lives. Not all of them, of course, but it’s slowly becoming apparent that it’s the majority. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11 and 20% of all Iraq and Afghanistan vets will be afflicted with psychological conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, and even more will end up homeless.

The VA has an audacious and highly unlikely goal of ending all vet homelessness by 2015. But if a recent story from Arizona is any indication, even the hospital might not be a safer place for wounded vets.

As CNN reported earlier this week, at least 40 vets died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system. Some of them were placed on a “secret” waiting list, apparently created by top VA officials attempting to hide the 1,500 sick vets who were made to wait for months before they received medical care.

As Dr. Sam Foote, the recently retired head of Phoenix’s VA system, said to CNN, there are always two lists — the one that gets shown to Washington bureau chiefs and the “secret” one that’s known and discussed only among the people in the know. This first list is a complete sham, as Foote said, while the second one allows the VA to circumvent its own rules stipulating that vets receive timely care, usually within 15 to 30 days of them requesting it.

But just how far did Phoenix’s VA department heads go to secure their system of lies? CNN points out that document shredding was fair game, as was plainly not making the requested doctor’s appointments in the system at all. The dishonesty was strikingly bold, as Foote recounted.

“They enter information into the computer and do a screen capture hard copy printout,” he said. “They then do not save what was put into the computer so there’s no record that you were ever here.”

The VA system in Phoenix is currently being investigated by the VA Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. House Veteran Affairs Committee.

Though the Phoenix story is heartbreaking and cynical, it’s just one dark smudge on an otherwise gleaming piece of crystalline glass. In fact, there are still plenty of honorable organizations devoted to helping vets achieve a stable postwar life, especially AMVETS, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which has offered valuable resources and support for vets and their families for over 50 years.

Hopefully what happened in Phoenix is merely an isolated incident. Our vets have a tough enough time already, don’t you think?


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