Over 200,000 Veterans Died Waiting for Health Care from VA

Carey Wedler
July 14, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) A U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs whistleblower has revealed that nearly ⅓ of veterans waiting for health care from the VA died before they received treatment, amounting to over 200,000 deaths from a lack of care. Scott Davis, a program specialist and whistleblower at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, provided Huffington Post with an internal report that lists the staggering figure.

“Analysis of Death Services”—a leaked VA document from April of 2015—is a review of the accuracy of veteran death records. According to the data, more than 238,657 of 847,822 veterans who enrolled for health care died before they received it. Page 13 of the leaked analysis lists the deaths of those with “pending” applications for enrollment under the sterile heading, “Individuals Pending A Decision But Likely Deceased.

VA was quick to downplay the severity of the figures, which amount to 28% of applicants who died waiting for care. Spokeswoman Walinda West said that while the number seemed large, many of those included may have died years ago. Because the VA system has no way to purge dead applicants, they remain in the backlog. Some of the deceased may go back as far as 1985, she said.

Further, she argued that some applicants began the application but failed to complete it, driving the number even higher. She also suggested that because 81% of veterans “have either Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare or some other private insurance… some in pending status may have decided to use other options instead of completing their eligibility application.”

Davis flatly dismissed her claims. He said the health records system West was referring to is for general health records, not applications still awaiting care. Regardless, an “incomplete application would never be listed as a pending application,” he argued. Worse still, Davis alleged that VA has required enrollment in health care since 1998, contradicting the 1985 time frame West offered. Davis provided an internal VA chart that suggests he is correct.

Even if West’s 1985 claim were accurate, it would still amount to 7,955 veterans a year who died waiting for care. If Davis’ 1998 claim is accurate, that annual figure reaches 11,932. Further, “the high number of dead people on the pending list indicates a poor bookkeeping process that overstates the number of living applicants — a number that should be closer to 610,000,” Huffington Post summarized. If true, this would place the rate at 39% of veterans that died awaiting care.

Though West attempted to sanitize the number, most proud Americans would likely agree that any number of veterans dying because they had to wait for care is too high. They might also agree with Davis’ other objection to West’s statements: that claiming veterans used private insurance is “immaterial and a farce” because they earned the care by serving their country.

Davis has attempted to raise awareness about the issue of backlogs before.  Last July, he and several other whistleblowers spoke out about 600,000 backlogged patients. They eventually alleged they were retaliated against by VA for doing so. Davis said last year that “management at all levels ignored or retaliated against them for exposing the truth.

This week’s startling disclosure is the latest failure from the VA. Care and treatment of veterans is a national problem that politicians and citizens pay lip service to but almost universally fail to remedy. For years, veteran suicide rates have hovered around 22 per day (a problem the VA solves by prescribing pharmaceutical cocktails). Rates are highest among “recent” veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In general, wait times, stagnant bureaucracy, and corruption leave veterans largely abandoned.

Though veterans are—on the surface—held in high esteem in the United States, the care and actual respect they receive  (such as treatment for serious health issues in a timely manner)  is laughable. Though politicians and citizens prattle on about how much they “support the troops” as they suppress free speech, spend more on war, and avoid a real conversation about what actually harms the troops, they continue to die in swaths.

To support the troops is to stop forcing them into wars that overwork them, traumatize them, and create hundreds of thousands of veterans who die waiting for a shred of gratitude from the state.

Though Davis hopes his leaks will initiate a national conversation, neither the White House or Senate Veterans Affairs Committee have responded to requests for comment.

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