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The Lake Charles Mobile VA Clinic (American Press Archives)

The Lake Charles Mobile VA Clinic (American Press Archives)

Editorial: Investigation of VA medical practices needed

Last Modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 6:08 PM A recent study of the Veterans Administration has revealed there is an urgent need for an investigation of the medical centers under its umbrella.

Both the American Legion and the House Veterans Affairs chairman have requested the VA explain why their facilities did not follow patient-safety directives and why bonuses were awarded to executives.

Nine out of 16 studied VA medical centers failed to follow policies meant to protect patients from deadly Legionella bacteria, according to a report issued Aug. 1 by VA’s Office of Inspector General.

The study also showed top VA executives in Pennsylvania and Georgia — where mismanagement has been blamed for deaths caused by Legionella — received salary bonuses and one national award for performance during the outbreak.

The combination of those factors has led U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, to call for a five-year moratorium on all VA executive bonuses.

“The American Legion is seriously concerned over accounts of preventable patient deaths in Pittsburgh and other locations around the country,” American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz said.

VA’s Inspector General reported that training and risk assessment procedures had not been conducted at nine out of 16 facilities with a history of problems — including three in Pittsburgh — since a 2008 VA directive demanded higher safety standards. In a separate earlier report, the VA IG office reported that mismanagement and leadership breakdowns were to blame for the deaths of no fewer than five VA patients in the Pittsburgh system.

“The American Legion cannot understand why VA would pay bonuses to senior leadership whose performance would come to warrant federal investigations,” Koutz said. “Bonuses for any VA executive should have to be extremely well-justified and fully researched, especially in today’s budget climate. Obviously, that did not happen in these particular cases.”

The American Legion has passed one recent resolution requiring that VA only reward bonuses to executives who have met “qualitative and quantitative performance measures developed by VA,” Koutz said, “It’s clear from these preventable death investigations, and the federal indictment, that performance was not bonus-worthy, regardless how you measure it,” Koutz said.

The chief executive of the Pittsburgh hospital, Terry Wolf, received a $12,924 bonus for 2011, and Veterans Integrated Service Network Director Michael Moreland, who oversees Pittsburgh and nine other VA health-care systems in Pennsylvania, received a bonus of $15,619 and a Presidential Distinguished Rank Award this year — which came with a $62,895 reward — during the Legionella outbreak.

At the Atlanta VA Medical Center, the VA Inspector General linked three patient deaths in 2011 and 2012 to mismanagement and lengthy waiting times for mental health care. James Clark, director of the center at the time, received a $13,822 bonus in 2011. Clark retired last December. William Montague, former director of the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, was arrested June 19 by the FBI.

He was indicted on 36 counts and accused of accepting bribes for influencing VA decisions and development projects, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Ohio. Montague received about $73,000 in bonuses between 2007 and 2010 and an additional $8,195 after he was called out of retirement to serve as interim director of the Dayton, Ohio, VA Medical Center.

This scandal is a good reason why all Americans should be wary of the coming health care changes. Do we really want government bureaucrats controlling our health care?

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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