We are glad to see Gov. Rick Scott pressure the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to come clean on reports of deaths and injuries that resulted from test delays at VA hospitals.
Yet the VA is stonewalling the governor just as it has stonewalled the efforts by the Tribune’s Howard Altman and members of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee to learn details about the deaths of 19 veterans because of delays in diagnostic testing. Five of those deaths and nine injuries occurred in the VA region that includes Florida.
Scott has pledged to make Florida the most military-friendly state in the nation, so this is an area of special concern.
Earlier this week he directed Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, to inspect VA hospitals and report her findings.
Dudek sent two inspectors to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center on Thursday, but they were escorted out without being allowed to review any records.
VA officials said they would work with the state but were unprepared for the unannounced visit. But how prepared do they need to be to produce medical records that could reveal why patients didn’t receive test results in a timely fashion?
As Altman found, 19 veterans died nationwide of gastrointestinal cancers as a result of delayed endoscopy tests between 2009 and 2011. The delays were less than a year but more than 90 days. In addition to the deaths, 63 veterans suffered medical harm from the delays.
Scott is not the only elected official upset by the lapse. Sen. Bill Nelson has been critical of the VA’s response and last week visited Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. He said none of the deaths occurred at Haley.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller also have pushed for more VA answers.
The governor intends to keep the pressure on the VA and rightly blasted it after the state inspectors were rebuffed:
“... I am disappointed the VA turned away the agency’s surveyors who were trying to bring transparency to the processes of federal VA hospitals. This is outrageous and unacceptable to the brave men and women who have defended our nation.
“We expect the federal government to do what’s best for our veterans and answer the many outstanding questions important to improving their health care.”
The VA can defuse this controversy by simply and candidly answering those questions.