A few days before Veterans’ Day 2013, Air Force veteran Robin Temple uploaded a video in which she describes her experience with malpractice at the hands of the Department of Veterans Affairs or VA. Despite the questionable nature of some of her claims, it is undeniable that Temple has suffered because of substandard care and outright medical incompetence. However, she is not alone. A report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and affiliates in the Cox Media Group found that the VA has “paid out roughly $845 million in malpractice cases during the past 10 years.”
This revelation comes at a time when the VA is being investigated for awarding high bonuses to officials who have overseen substandard and negligent care. The impetus for these hearings was an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that went unreported for a year in a Pittsburgh, Pa. VA hospital. Despite this glaring oversight, “the VA may be doing no worse than the private sector” according to a recent Military.com article. According to Bloomberg, “[a]s many as 1.2 million additions soldiers are due to become veterans in the next four years,” and unless something changes at the VA the payouts are only going to increase.
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There has been a recent push to reduce the backlog of claims awaiting response from the VA, which has resulted in an increase of both budget and human resources. Yet the question remains if it was enough. Is this problem related to a stingy budget or to negligent hospital administrators? Republican Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, chair of the House Veterans Committee, told Bloomberg, that the problem “is not money or manpower – it’s accountability.”
For veterans like Temple and others, the malpractice payments are not adequate consolation for the way their lives have been affected by the VA. What’s shocking is that the payments have continued to increase to higher levels and nothing has been done to improve the care provided to the veterans who rely on it.