Explaining the VA controversy

President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to punish any wrongdoing in connection with a scandal that has enveloped some medical facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Here are the basics of the controversy:

Q: What are the allegations?

According to news media reports, there have been claims of false record-keeping and long waiting lists for care at VA facilities across the country. In some places, veterans have died while waiting for care, though there is no known link between the deaths and delays. Other allegations include an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at one VA hospital and a mismanaged gastroenterology program that delayed treatment to veterans.

“We didn’t conclude, so far, that the delay caused the death,” VA Inspector General Richard Griffin testified at a Senate hearing last week on the state of the VA’s health care. “It’s one thing to be on a waiting list, it’s another for that to be the cause of death.”

Q: Where have some of the allegations taken place?

Phoenix. According to reports by the Arizona Republic and CNN, whistleblowers at the VA in Phoenix claim employees kept a secret waiting list to make it appear that veterans were receiving care more quickly than they really were. The reports also say that an estimated 40 patients, many on the waiting list, have died, although investigators have not tied the deaths to delays in treatment.

The allegations in Phoenix have sparked the broader scandal. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has called for a review of all VA facilities and pressured a senior VA official to retire; some officials at the Phoenix hospital have been placed on leave.

The American Legion has called for Shinseki’s resignation. Obama dispatched one of his top advisers, Rob Nabors, to oversee an investigation of the VA.

Fort Collins, Colorado. USA Today reported this month that a report by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector found that clerks at a clinic in Fort Collins were instructed on how to falsify records so it appeared doctors were seeing 14 patients a day – a number within the agency’s goal to help reduce the appointment backlog.

Miami. A VA police detective told WFOR-TV this week that cover-ups were ingrained into the hospital’s culture and that powerful prescription drugs were illegally dealt there.

Q: What is this backlog of claims that officials are talking about?

A tide of disability claims from soldiers who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan has inundated the VA. The VA added additional ailments tied to exposure from Agent Orange , which increased the number of claims overall. The claims seek financial compensation for injuries suffered in the line of duty.

“We launched an all out-war on the disability claims backlog, and just in the last year we’ve slashed that backlog by half,” Obama said Wednesday.

Q: How does the claims system work?

If there is 50 percent or more certainty that an inury was suffered during military service, a veteran is eligible for disability.

Disabled service members are told about disability benefits before being discharged. There is no time limit for a veteran to file a claim.

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