Department of Veterans Affairs efforts to downplay its admission that preventable deaths occurred due to delays in medical care were called a “stunning lack of clarity” by the new secretary of Veterans Affairs in a letter released Monday.
Secretary Robert McDonald acknowledged Congress and the public were misled in a report released in April, which tied the deaths of 23 patients due to gastrointestinal cancers to unacceptable delays in getting colonoscopies and other procedures at VA hospitals nationwide.
When that report was issued, it linked the deaths to a review of 250 million orders for medical care issued since 1999. That linkage was repeated the next day when Thomas Lynch, assistant deputy under secretary for health at VA, testified in front of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
But committee investigators learned last month that none of the deaths occurred prior to 2010. VA officials have since acknowledged 24 deaths between August 2010 and February 2014.
“There was a stunning lack of clarity in the oversight and communication of this work,” McDonald said of the April report and congressional testimony.
“I am disappointed by how the department characterized the findings of its internal consult reviews,” McDonald said in a letter sent Friday to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“This is a complex subject, but VA has a responsibility to communicate clearly and accurately to Congress, Veterans, and the American public. I can assure you that moving forward we will do better,” McDonald said.
McDonald was confirmed by the Senate in July. He replaced former Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned May 30 amid ever-widening revelations that patient waiting lists were falsified to hide long backlogs in care.
McDonald said he has asked the VA inspector general to review the agency’s actions related to the report. He also directed Lynch to clarify his testimony.
CORRECTION: The VA report linked the deaths to a review of 250 million orders for medical care. The number of orders was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. The Washington Examiner regrets the error.