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Report: The VA ignored whistleblowers' warnings for years

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson speaks at the Phoenix VA facility.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson speaks at the Phoenix VA facility.
Laura Segall / Getty Images News

The US Department of Veterans Affairs has repeatedly classified serious shortfalls in its health-care system as harmless errors, a new report from the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found.

In two instances, a whistleblower pointed out that two patients with serious mental health conditions went unattended and untreated at VA facilities for more than seven and eight years. Despite the findings, OSC found the VA's Office of the Medical Inspector repeatedly failed to acknowledge the impact of the VA's neglect on these patients' care.

The report goes on to specify multiple instances in which the VA was notified by whistleblowers of serious gaps in VA health care but failed to act.

OSC's analysis also found staff at several VA facilities were told to manipulate scheduling data in a way that made it look like they were seeing and treating patients in a timely manner.

The report notes that its warnings are nothing new. Lerner warned back in a September 2013 letter that the VA "has consistently failed to take responsibility for identified problems."

OSC called on the VA to take the warnings of whistleblowers more seriously. Shortly after the report's release, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson in a statement committed to doing just that.

Whether that actually happens remains to be seen. Federal watchdogs have been calling for major changes at the VA for years, receiving timid responses until the ongoing VA scandal first broke. The Government Accountability Office, for instance, asked the VA to fix its scheduling practices in 2013 and 2014 reports.

OSC's letter is just one of many dire reports about the VA released in the past few weeks. As the official investigations pile up, it's becoming clear that the VA had very serious problems over the years — and some of the issues were known by senior leaders and administrators even as they were rated highly and obtained millions in pay bonuses.