Deadly delays plague several VA medical centers

At least 19 veterans have died recently at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities because of delays in simple medical screenings, according to an internal VA document obtained by CNN.

These screenings, such as colonoscopies or endoscopies, can often mean the difference between life and death. About 7,000 veterans were on a backlog list to receive such screenings at VA facilities in Columbia, S.C., and Augusta, Ga.

Last September, VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that six patient deaths at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia were linked to delayed screenings for colorectal cancer. OIG also concluded that delayed colonoscopies and other screenings were linked to malignancies found in another 52 patients.

The American Legion contacted the OIG last December to obtain more information on their findings in advance of a System Worth Saving (SWS) site visit to the Columbia facility on March 4. During that discussion, the OIG explained why the screenings became backlogged. When a patient’s primary care provider sends a gastroenterology (GI) consult, it is sent electronically to the medical center’s GI administration. But no one was looking at the consults coming in, which led to the backlog.

The report noted that another factor in creating the backlog was the Columbia facility’s high turnover in personnel.

In April, the Legion’s SWS team will seek to determine what plan of action the Columbia VA medical center has implemented to prevent future delays in screenings for patients. Another SWS team was scheduled to visit the VA medical center in Augusta, Ga., on Jan. 30-31, but the visit was cancelled because of a snowstorm in the deep south.

According to CNN, veterans have died from delayed screenings at several other VA facilities in Florida, Texas and the Rocky Mountain region. The American Legion’s SWS teams have already made site visits to VA hospitals in Atlanta and El Paso, Texas. Besides the Columbia trip in March, SWS team will also evaluate the quality of VA health care at facilities in Denver, Dallas and Orlando, Fla.

The American Legion’s SWS teams compile reports from interviews with patients, administrators and medical staff, and share them with Congress, the White House and senior VA leadership. They are also available online here.