Dorn VA patient's Capitol Hill testimony leads to more vets coming forward

Published: May. 15, 2014 at 9:32 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2014 at 9:13 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - System-wide scheduling delays in the VA system since 2000 was the topic of a Senate hearing today in Washington. As the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs pushed for answers, WIS has demanded answers for Midlands veterans.

The VA has known about these delays since 2000, pointing to a 2010 eight-page memo where the VA identified some gaming methods with scheduling. The VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said they're conducting a system-wide audit of 151 medical centers and that includes Dorn VA Medical Center.

McBee veteran Barry Coates was on Capitol Hill last month, before a House committee, for answers why it took a year for his colonoscopy at the VA.

"I think that opened up another door, another avenue, and another can or worms you might say," said Coates.

Since Coates' testimony, more whistleblowers have come from across the nation, detailing delays in care for critical consults and secret waiting lists.

"You can only cover up so long to where it comes up to light," said Coates.

The testimony led the Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs to subpoena Secretary Shinseki to testify.

"It's real sad that Americans and veterans and their families had to have a death or a serious illness to occur to be brought to light, but somebody somewhere wasn't doing their job," said Coates.

Who was held responsible for Dorn's delays in care resulting in 6 deaths? Records we requested show Dorn did significantly more, less evasive gastrointerology tests rather than colonoscopies even in 2012 and 2013 just after backlogs.

In February, Dr. Robert Petzel testified three Dorn administrators were threatened with disciplinary action. We've requested who those administrators were, what action was taken, and whether they're still employed. Three months later, that request still hasn't been answered. Today, Shinseki was asked about holding medical center directors accountable.

"We have to be transparent and we have to hold people accountable and what I will say to you is we will get into this and it is important for me to ensure veterans to regain their trust whatever has been compromised here," said Shinseki.

Shinseki told senators he's responsible for the entire system. Barry Coates feels the former Dorn Director, Rebecca Wiley, shouldn't have been allowed to just retire in October.

"She's responsible for everything under her and anything under her that takes place has to be known and I know they knew that that was going on and there's probably some similarity to what's going on in Phoenix," said Coates.

Identified only as a concerned veteran, someone sent us a copy of Rebecca Wiley's confidential release and settlement after she filed a formal administrative complaint. The reason for the complaint was blacked out. We tried to confirm this document in November through an open records request, only to be passed from one VA agency to another. The document claims Wiley was paid a lump sum just over $76,000 30 days after her retirement, plus $10,000 for attorney fees -- your taxpayer dollars.

It appears we may only have part of the document. We spoke with Wiley's attorney, who tells us because of a confidentiality agreement, she can't comment on the terms of the agreement.  As for the other two Dorn administrators, after claims from the VA that they misplaced our request for their names, they say they're working to fulfill it.

Coates continues to ask questions, including why he didn't get an institutional disclosure for the errors in his case. He's questioned Dr. Thomas Lynch, a senior VA administrator, as to why more action wasn't taken.

"He said he was going to look into it and I told him I would follow up with that," said Coates. "I guess you kind of got to push people and ask questions."

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