The Veterans Administration's medical director told Congress his agency did not know some of its doctors had been disciplined by state medical boards, but now is checking all its doctors' credentials.
A review of recent disciplinary actions found 87 doctors with license problems, Dr. John Ditzler told the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Ditzler minimized the problem, describing one case as a doctor who had lost her license in a flood, but later said that "probably 12" of the doctors are drug addicts who are now being treated in VA facilities.
Another five of the cases involve doctors who were disciplined by state boards for unprofessional conduct, which Ditzler said could be "simple personality conflicts."
Ditzler will decide the fate of each doctor, following the advice of a VA committee. He said he will consider other factors beside a state's action, such as whether a doctor has sought rehabilitation.
Rep. G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery (D-Miss.) said he called the hearing following press reports of deficiencies in the way the VA monitored the credentials of its doctors.
In addition to making better background checks on staff doctors, Ditzler said, the VA will require the approximately 100,000 doctors who work occasionally for the agency to prove they have a valid license each year that they submit bills.
But this may not show that a doctor is free from disciplinary problems, since many doctors hold multiple licenses. A doctor with four state licenses, for example, can have his license revoked in three and still practice in the fourth.
Dr. Bryant Galusha, director of the Federation of State Medical Boards, said that his group is attempting to end this practice by informing all states when a doctor is disciplined. However, he said, a "significant void" has been created by the VA's failure to report its own disciplinary cases to the federation.
"We need to close this circle of responsibility," Galusha said. "It puts the states at a tremendous disadvantage when the VA, as huge as it is" does not report.
The VA employs about 20 percent of the nation's doctors, either directly or under contract.