Yesterday, New Times published the second part of our series Hell on the Home Front, a profile of Iraq War vet Nicholas Cutter and the poor treatment he received at the Miami Veterans Affairs hospital.
The story of how Cutter's death inside the VA was allegedly covered up has touched a nerve in a nation still reeling from news of secret VA waiting lists. As politicians in D.C. try to pass legislation to solve the VA crisis, several lawmakers have told New Times of their outrage over Cutter's death.
"Our veterans deserve a better VA than one that is satisfied with piecemeal solutions and shifts blame to external factors," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "None of that matters to veterans who have to wait for appointments and who, at times, encounter an indifferent staff."
On Monday, federal lawmakers announced that they were working on a bipartisan deal to fix some of the glaring problems exposed by the past three months of VA scandals.
The $17 billion bill would address long wait times and mismanagement at the much maligned Department of Veterans Affairs. On May 30, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid reports that as many as 70,000 vets had never received the appointments they had been promised. As many as 40 vets have reportedly died while waiting to see a doctor.
As part of the suggested deal, around $10 billion would help veterans on waiting lists get medical care outside of the VA healthcare system.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is among the bill's many backers. Last week she retweeted our Hell On The Home Front article. And on Monday, her office provided an official statement on the matter.
The Miami VA has long been plagued by scandal and mismanagement. Although the Miami VA administration claims they are making reforms, I have yet to see verifiable proof of this claim. Our veterans deserve a better VA than one that is satisfied with piecemeal solutions and shifts blame to external factors. None of that matters to veterans who have to wait for appointments and who, at times, encounter an indifferent staff. While the Miami VA claims progress is being made in changing its 'culture of entitlement to one of accountability,' I have a hard time believing that they are having any success when the responses to questions posed by my office are both evasive and unprofessional.
Equally outraged is Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman. The panhandle politician heads the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
"No hospital system is immune from mistakes and mismanagement. But what the VA health care system does seem to be immune from is meaningful accountability," he wrote to New Times after receiving our article.
"Given that this tragic event is part of a pattern of preventable veteran deaths and other patient-safety issues at VA hospitals around the country, it's well past time for the department to put its employees on notice that anyone who lets patients fall through the cracks will be held fully responsible," he added. "Until VA leaders make a serious attempt to address the department's widespread and systemic lack of accountability, I fear we'll only see more of these heartbreaking lapses in care."
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Miami VA officials have denied responsibility for Cutter's death. Read our full Q&A with Miami VA Director Paul M. Russo here.