Whistleblower Says Two Killed Themselves Waiting for Treatment
Policy + Politics

Whistleblower Says Two Killed Themselves Waiting for Treatment

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Margaret Moxness, a former VA psychiatrist in West Virginia, says she never saw any “secret waiting lists” that hid the fact that mentally troubled patients were being forced to wait an inordinate amount of time for follow-up visits.

But Moxness said she saw plenty of evidence that traumatized Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans often had to wait months for follow-up appointments at a Charleston, W.Va., VA medical center where she worked between 2008 and 2010. She also knew of two patients who committed suicide while waiting for treatment between visits.

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During an appearance this morning on Fox News Sunday, Moxness said the frequent delays in follow-up appointments for vets suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome was a highly dangerous practice. That’s “because when you start a patient into care and then you expose them to the risks that are inherent in treatment, you need to watch them more closely to tide them over” until they become more stable, she explained.

Moxness said that when her superiors at the VA began ignoring her verbal and written warnings about the delays, she concluded it was better not to see new patients at all than to subject them to partial, episodic treatment.

Fox News has been touting Moxness's claims in recent days, saying they add to the mounting controversey surrounding reports now under investigation that VA officials had concealed information about the long wait times in several states and that 40 veterans died while waiting for follow-up appointments at a VA center in Phoenix, Ariz.

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Moxness’s first person account adds to the poignancy of reports that many Americans who risked life and limb to fight for their country were treated shabbily and inhumanely.

The VA hasn’t responded to Moxness’s claims, according to Fox News. However, they are a small part of a much larger indictment of mismanagement and malfeasance now under investigation by the VA’s inspector general and others.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a decorated former Army general who has headed the agency for nearly six years, is coming under mounting pressure from Republicans, Democrats and even the American Legion to resign. Robert Petzel, the Under Secretary for Health, took early retirement after he and Shinseki gave what many said was unsatisfactory testimony before a Senate committee last week.

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The VA has also put three senior officials in Phoenix on administrative leave after doctors there said they were instructed to hold veterans' names for months on a secret waiting list until a spot opened up. An official list met the agency's two-week waiting time goals, according to reports.

Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said Sunday morning that the VA scandal is “much larger” than the department's embattled leader. “You’ve got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists out there that is not held accountable, that is shooting for goals, goals that are not helping the veteran,” Miller said on CNN’s State of the Union.

President Obama last Wednesday said that if the allegations prove to be true, the manipulation of VA medical records and patient logs was "dishonorable" and “disgraceful” and that "I will not stand for it, as a commander in chief but also as an American." While Obama did not call for Shinseki’s resignation, he left open the door to that possibility depending on the findings of the VA inspector general’s investigation and an administrative review.

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Derek Bennett, chief of staff of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization, who appeared with Moxness on Fox News Sunday, complained that Obama is essentially “dithering around” instead of taking direct action to correct long-festering management problems at the VA.

Citing repeated studies going back to 2008 and Obama’s own complaints about patient backlogs and red tape at the VA, Bennett declared, “Our 270,000 members and supporters were certainly expecting more in the way of a plan of action from the president than waiting for another report.”

“At some point we have to stop studying and actually take action,” said Bennet, a former Army captain and special assistant to former General David Petraeus. 

Bennett and other critics conceded, however, that Shinseki  took a positive step on Saturday by announcing that the VA will allow more veterans to obtain health care at private hospitals and clinics in an effort to improve their treatment.

Shinseki also said the VA will be enhancing the capacity of its medical clinics so that veterans can get care sooner, according to the Associated Press. In cases where officials can’t expand the capacity at VA centers, the VA is “increasing the care we acquire in the community though non-VA care,” Shinsinki said.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have sought this expanded effort. The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA hospitals and clinics, the AP reported

“What we want to do is No. 1, give veterans the option to go where they want to get their health care, when they want to get their health care, and not be forced into a system that has to have the numbers to survive,” Congressman Miller said today. 

While praising the announcement, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) added, “I’m also going to say, what took so long?” during an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation. “This is not a new issue in terms of the backlog.”

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