Whistleblowers say Veterans Choice program used to reduce crucial services at VA hospital
Mon, February 22, 2016 by Kari Wethington
CINCINNATI – For veterans, the July 2014 Veterans Choice Act was intended to reduce wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals by providing billions to pay for outside options for care. But former and current medical staff at the Cincinnati VA have told the Scripps Washington Bureau and WCPO that some hospital leaders there see this separate pool of money as an incentive to make their own books look good by slashing medical staff and eliminating services available to veterans inside the hospital.
The Veterans Choice program, created in response to a scandal in which veterans died while still on waiting lists for VA appointments, was meant to supplement care. But whistleblowers say the Cincinnati center used the program as a way to reduce crucial services. And veterans told Scripps reporters they had no choice but to take outsourced healthcare, which created long delays as the veterans got caught in a “bureaucratic abyss” and a cycle of miscommunication.
“There’s no question that the expenses go down if you don’t take care of people,” said Dr. Richard Freiberg, the Cincinnati VA’s former head of orthopedics and one of 34 whistleblowers to have come forward during the investigation.
House Veterans Affairs Committee sources say they are investigating complaints from employees at other VA hospitals who say that those hospitals are also using the Choice program to shift costs, though the committee has not yet verified those claims.
The full story is available on WCPO.com. It is the second in a series of reports; the first Feb. 16 story outlined the questionable practices at the very top echelons of leadership at the VA center in Cincinnati and the wider region.
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Ellen Weiss, Scripps Washington Bureau, 202-408-2756, email@example.com
Kari Wethington, The E.W. Scripps Company, 513-977-3763, firstname.lastname@example.org