House committee gives VA officials a tongue-lashing

At a testy Wednesday night hearing, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs received testimony from Veterans Affairs officials on the  handling of healthcare appointments at VA medical facilities.

Witnesses included Ms. Joan Mooney, Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs; Mr. Michael Huff, Congressional Relations Officer; and Thomas Lynch,  M.D., Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations.

Committee members sometimes seemed less interested in fact finding than in appearing aggressive, cutting off witnesses as they tried to respond to questions; nevertheless, valuable insights emerged.

Lynch acknowledged that internal reports had reported that the “scheduling system was challenged.  “But we discounted the (inspector general) reports and patient concerns as exceptions, not the rule. We could and should have challenged those assumptions.” Moreover, those reports may have understated the seriousness and extent of the problems.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) took Lynch to task for traveling to the Phoenix VA to investigate allegations of secret waiting lists, but failing to meet with the whistle-blower who helped bring the issue to public attention.

Lynch said he was concerned such a meeting might interfere with the investigation.

Coffman retorted: “I think that your concern was it might interfere with the truth.” [LATimes]

Not mentioned at the hearing: Failing to interview whistleblowers when conducting internal investigations is a nearly universal practice in the federal government and occurs with all kinds of investigations, from allegations of mismanagement to discrimination complaints. As a consequence of this institutionalized hostility toward whistleblowers, agencies routinely produced biased reports that mislead the President and Congress about government operations. Achieving reform in any government program must therefore begin by changing attitudes toward whistleblowing.

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