VA vows changes on bad health care providers
Lawmakers take action after USA TODAY finds repeated failures
USA TODAY WASHINGTON The Department of Veterans Affairs is pledging to overhaul its reporting policies for bad medical workers and a group of lawmakers is introducing legislation after a USA TODAY investigation that found the VA has routinely concealed shoddy care and staff mistakes.
VA Secretary David Shulkin directed agency officials to expand a nearly 30-year-old policy that limited what medical providers the agency would report to a national database created by Congress to prevent problem medical workers from crossing state lines to escape their pasts and keep practicing.
The agency will report all clinicians from now on, VA press secretary Curt Cashour said. Shulkin also asked staff to rewrite 12-year-old guidelines for reporting them to state licensing boards in an effort to speed up the process.
“Under Secretary Shulkin, VA’s new direction is to hold employees accountable and to be transparent with our findings and actions,” Cashour said.
The legislation from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, RWash., Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, RMaine, would require VA doctors themselves to report directly to state licensing boards within five days of witnessing unacceptable behavior from fellow doctors.
“These newest reports out of the VA are deeply troubling,” McMorris Rodgers said. “This bill will help reform the culture at the VA by holding bad actors accountable and keeping them from continuing these mistakes at the VA or elsewhere.”
The USA TODAY investigation found the VA has frequently failed to ensure its hospitals reported problem health care providers to state licensing boards. Such reports can be delayed by years. The investigation also found the VA policy on reporting to the national database left out thousands of providers. The agency previously reported only physicians and dentists — no nurses, physicians’ assistants or podiatrists.
The VA determined one podiatrist at its Maine hospital harmed 88 veterans, including a woman who after two failed ankle surgeries chose to have her leg amputated rather than endure the pain. Still, the agency didn’t report the foot doctor to the database under its previous policy, and it took two years to report him to state licensing boards.
In other cases, USA TODAY found VA hospitals signed secret settlement deals with dozens of doctors, nurses and other health workers that included promises to conceal serious mistakes — from inappropriate relationships and breakdowns in supervision to dangerous medical errors — even after forcing them out of the VA.
Roe, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the committee has “long been concerned about VA’s settlement agreements.”
“The findings of the USA TODAY investigation are intolerable,” he said. “Malfeasance within the department will not be ignored, and it certainly cannot be rewarded and hidden from state licensing boards. As a physician, I find this deeply troubling.”
In response to USA TODAY’s findings, Shulkin directed that any future settlement agreements worth more than $5,000 be approved by top VA officials in Washington. Previously, local and regional officials made decisions on the deals, which can cut short potentially costly employee challenges of VA disciplinary actions.
On Wednesday, the agency also said it planned to post publicly for the first time data on settlements that are approved. The first tranche of data shows that since President Donald Trump took office in January, the VA has struck agreements with at least 160 employees involving payouts totaling $4.2 million.