America Opens Its Heart and the VA Closes Its Doors
When Barack Obama tried to defend his highly controversial and questionable deal to trade five cutthroat terrorists for a likely deserter, he lashed out at critics, repeatedly proclaiming, “We don't leave soldiers behind... Period. Full stop.” Tell that to America’s veterans who have languished at home and in waiting rooms while the Obama Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has denied them desperately needed medical care.
Judicial Watch recently released internal VA documents showing that the Obama administration has left behind tens of thousands of sick and injured veterans for the past six years. In fact, the VA not only refused veterans medical attention, it ordered a nationwide “mass purge” of MRI orders for thousands of veterans awaiting treatment, many dating back nearly a decade.
On November 25, 2009, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was informed that top VA officials had ordered the nationwide purge of “all outstanding [MRI] imaging orders for studies older than 6 months.” Yet, seven days later, on December 2, 2009, the OIG closed its investigation without taking further action.
The documents obtained by Judicial Watch also detail repeated efforts by VA whistleblower Oliver Mitchell, a Marine veteran and former patient services assistant, to persuade the OIG to fully investigate the mass destruction of veterans’ medical files and the cancellation of examination requests. The documents, dating back to 2009, reveal that OIG spent barely two months investigating the allegations before closing the case.
The VA documents came in response to a February 27, 2014 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking “records of communications between officials of the Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Medical Center [GLA] from August 1, 2008, to July 30, 2009, relating to the destruction of patient medical files and the cancellation of medical exam requests.” Also sought were records in the possession of the VA’s OIG relating to the GLA’s alleged destruction of patients’ medical files and examination requests.
In response to the FOIA request Judicial Watch received two batches of documents from the VA OIG. The first was a five-page document containing the revelation that the GLA had sent a memo to the OIG in November 2009 revealing that Dr. Charles Anderson, the VA National Radiology Director, had sent instructions to conduct the purge. According to the GLA memo, sent in response to an OIG inquiry:
During the period of time in question, the backlog of outstanding requests for MRI Imaging studies across the Veterans Health Administration dated back 10 years. Central Office and the office of Dr. Charles Anderson, National Radiology Director, instructed all Imaging Services across the country to mass purge all outstanding imaging orders for studies older than 6 months, where the procedure was no longer needed, and with approval from the individual healthcare system’s Medical Executive Committee (MEC)….
Significantly, the memo failed to explain either how decisions were made as to which “procedures were no longer needed,” or what would warrant the “approval from the individual healthcare system.” Yet there is no record of the OIG following up with obvious questions about procedures and approvals. They simply took the word of those under investigation that everything was all right, that they should just move on, that there is nothing to see here.
The OIG investigation (such as it was) lasted only from September 23 to December 2, 2009 – barely more than two months. Then, as I mentioned above, it was closed within seven days after the OIG received the GLA’s self-exculpatory memo.
Another document included verbatim disclosures and accusations made by Mitchell, then a Patient Services Assistant in the VA’s Radiology Section. The Mitchell memos, repeatedly urging the OIG to act, had not been previously released to the public:
- May 12, 2009: “From June 2008 to September 2008 the current interim chief stated, ‘Our clinic had the worst performance numbers compared to other VA’s nationwide’… she also stated ‘management stated no MRI orders should be cancelled and/or deleted’… Shortly thereafter, I noticed that requests for MRIs were being cancelled dating from the year 2000 to November 2008. I approached the current interim chief about this matter in which she responded ‘management was all over her and she had to do something.’”
- March 24, 2009: “Since my employment within this department I have witnessed ‘valid requests for MRI’s’ being cancelled and/or deleted from the system as a means of reducing the number of requests for MRI’s pending. This has been ongoing since my employment here. It is my opinion that the harassment, death threats and threats of termination I have received are due to my vocal opposition to this practice.”
- March 24, 2009: “In February 2009 I received via voicemail a complaint from the daughter of a Veteran who stated her father had come to the VA for care and the doctor had submitted a request for a MRI. The daughter expressed great sadness and anger in our process stating her father had suffered from a massive stroke while waiting for his MRI appointment. I informed Dr. [REDACTED] of the voicemail and her response was to give her the request and not speak of the matter, she stated, ‘I already have enough tort claims as it is.’ Shortly after this, I noticed that more requests were being deleted from the system.”
- May 12, 2009: “It is my opinion that this department has not been able to meet its mandated obligations with regards to performance. The administrative process is flawed and has resulted in deaths, continued pain and suffering and an overall decline in Veterans’ health due to the lengthy wait for an MRI.”
The VA internal documents show that the Obama administration long knew of the deadly abuse being suffered by our nation’s veterans at the hands of the VA. And it chose to do nothing about it. In his 1984 Memorial Day tribute to America’s soldiers, Ronald Reagan said, “A grateful nation opens her heart in gratitude, for their sacrifices, for their courage, and for their noble service.” Under Barack Obama, the VA closed its doors. And all of us owe Oliver Mitchell a debt gratitude for coming forward and blowing this whistle on this deadly corruption.