Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Tuesday issued a scathing 119-page report describing a culture of crime, cover-ups, incompetence and coercion at the already-embattled Department of Veterans Affairs.
Coburn said the VA’s recent hospital scandal, which involved falsification of scheduling records to hide treatment delays, is “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Among the discoveries from his year-long review, Coburn found:
* A former VA police chief convicted of plotting to kidnap, rape and murder women and children.
* A VA neurologist in Kansas who was paid for nearly two years after five women accused him of performing inappropriate pelvic and breast examinations. The VA fired the doctor in May 2013, and he pleaded no contest to two dozen counts of sexual misconduct, in addition to registering as a sex offender.
* A VA employee in Nashville who charged at least $109,000 in unauthorized travel expenses to the department. An inspector general’s investigation determined that the worker had lax supervision and “traveled whenever and wherever he wanted, billing VA for his expenses.”
* Four major construction projects with cost overruns of $1.5 billion and delays between 14 months and six years.
* A VA whistleblower who was suspended without pay after she reported scheduling abuses at a department medical center in Fort Collins, Colo. She said her supervisors claimed her “performance had delayed patient care,” and the VA relocated her to another clinic with a lower salary, according to the report.
* More than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA misconduct, and the agency paid out $845 million for medical malpractice since 2001.
Coburn also criticized the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for what he described as a lack of oversight, saying the panel has only held two oversight hearings and missed warnings about delays and dysfunction for years while holding only two oversight hearings since 2010.
“This report shows the problems at the VA are worse than anyone imagined,” the senator said. “The scope of the VA’s incompetence — and Congress’s indifferent oversight — is breathtaking and disturbing.”
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has held 25 hearings in the current session of Congress, including 11 oversight hearings covering topics such as the VA’s backlog of disability claims, veteran suicide and overuse of pain medication, according to the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the panel.
Coburn said money is not the issue, noting that Congress has increased VA funding “rapidly in recent years” and that the agency had more than $34 billion in unspent funds in fiscal 2013.
The VA said in a statement on Tuesday that “the vast majority of VA employees are dedicated public servants who demonstrate genuine passion to care for veterans and their families every day.”
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over as head of the department after Eric Shinseki resigned last month, acknowledged in his first public remarks about the scheduling scandal that the VA had “fallen far short of what veterans have earned and deserve.”
But he promised to change the culture of the VA and earn back the trust in the department “one veteran at a time, one American at a time.”