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Virginia Congresswoman Blasts Veterans Affairs After Missed Deadline for VA Medical Center Investigation

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HAMPTON, Va. — The Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire for missing the deadline to provide information on the Hampton VA Medical Center to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs following allegations of employee retaliation and substandard care.

The House committee launched an investigation after lawmakers said they met with medical professionals and whistleblowers who work at the medical center in March to discuss the delivery of care after recent scrutiny. Led by U.S. Rep. Jen Kiggans, the House committee on April 9 requested documents related to disciplinary actions against employees, patient safety reports related to the medical center’s surgical department and policy language on the medical center’s cleaning of exam and procedure rooms. Lawmakers gave a deadline of April 26.

As of May 16, the VA had yet to provide any of the requested information to the committee, said Kiggans, a Hampton Roads representative who serves as the chairwoman of the committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee.

“Every day these allegations go unaddressed is another day patients may be at risk,” Kiggans said in a news release Friday.

Kiggans and the committee said they received credible complaints of employee retaliation, patient safety concerns and medical incompetence stemming from the Hampton Veterans Affairs facility and its surgical department. The allegations, a spokesperson for Kiggans said, were brought by more than a dozen individuals, including patients and former and current employees at the medical center.

The investigation, a committee spokesperson said, is examining whether medical center leaders are working to fix the alleged issues at the facility, including those identified by two Office of the Inspector General reports, or if issues are being covered up by retaliating against medical professionals who raise concerns. In both cases, the OIG does not say who brought the allegations or the nature of their relationship to the patients.

“The allegations surrounding Hampton VAMC are incredibly serious. They have created serious concerns that Hampton VAMC lacks the competent leadership needed to repair an imploding Surgical Services department,” lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to VA Secretary Denis McDonough.

The Department of Veterans Affairs responded to the committee’s letter Monday, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes told The Virginian-Pilot.

“We have been investigating and taking steps to address concerns at the Hampton VA Medical Center since August of last year, including making multiple site visits to review and evaluate surgical services and instituting clinical care and peer reviews of the surgical care we offer. We continue to work closely and urgently to make sure we are delivering the world-class surgical care that local Veterans deserve, and we will not rest until any issues are addressed,” Hayes said.

In June 2022, the Office of the Inspector General, an internal watchdog, reported several failures at the Hampton VA Medical Center over about two years that led to a delayed cancer diagnosis. Despite the delays, the report noted “earlier diagnosis may not have impacted the patient’s outcome” due to the nature of the cancer.

Health care providers had failed to communicate, act on and document abnormal test results, including an abnormal CT scan in 2019 that indicated possible cancer in the prostate gland, the report said. The oversight office found facility staff and leaders were aware of the deficiencies in the patient’s care but took no action to initiate or submit patient safety reports.

The OIG made seven recommendations, all of which have been implemented at the Hampton VA Medical Center.

The Hampton VA medical center came under scrutiny again in September 2023 after the watchdog reported failures in care that delayed the diagnosis and treatment of a veteran who died of cancer.

The office started an investigation June 10, 2022, following the March 2022 death of a patient. About six months before the patient died, a mass “worrisome for malignancy” was found in their right lung, but more than five months passed before the patient saw an oncologist, the report said.

The inspector general could not determine if the delay contributed to the patient’s death as the report said it was likely the patient had metastatic disease, or cancer that had spread, when the initial mass was found. The investigation found multiple care coordination deficiencies, such as scheduling and communication, led to the delays in diagnosis and treatment.

The Office of the Inspector General “determined that the decisions made regarding the patient’s care, including the timing of the appointments and the initial biopsy, suggested a lack of urgency, despite the patient’s multiple symptoms and worrisome imaging results,” the report said.

In an Oct. 2 statement to The Virginian-Pilot, the Department of Veteran Affairs offered condolences to the veteran’s family, “both for their loss and for the unacceptable delays in care.” VA spokesperson Gary Kunich said the department was taking urgent steps to prevent delays from happening in the future and to ensure the delivery of high-quality and timely services to every veteran patient.

As of Monday, only two of the seven recommendations made by the inspector general’s office had been implemented at Hampton VA Medical Center, according to the department website.

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