A retired U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant prominent veterans advocate is fuming after new revelations that the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington is failing to meet even the most basic medical standards.
Employees at the center are imploring new Veterans Affairs Sec. Robert Willkie to take immediate action to change practices there. They cite rusty medical instruments and bacteria-infected water being used to sterilize equipment.
The employees also report, “Infection rates went up instead of down in veterans’ bloodstreams and in their urinary tracts. Patient satisfaction went down instead of up. Employee satisfaction tanked.”
Jessie Jane Duff served 20 years in the Marine Corps, rising to gunnery sergeant. She is now a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
“This sounds like a third world hospital and yet it’s right at the back door of the VA headquarters itself right here in Washington, D.C. It’s tragic. This is one of the flagship hospitals for the VA,” said Duff, noting the facility is one of fifteen nationwide with the lowest rating.
“If it was a restaurant, it would have been shut down,” she added. “Here is an example of basic healthcare that is being handled in such an incompetent manner. I mean rusty instruments? Water that you can’t even drink from? What is going on? Are we actually in combat? Are we in a MASH unit? Even then, their standards are higher.”
As a result of the VA scandal earlier this decade, funding for the department was effectively doubled. Duff says these conditions are not due to a lack of resources.
“The VA gets the second largest bucket of money next to [the Defense Department]. So this is not a money problem. This is a management problem. It’s an accountability problem. Until you’re able to bring in positive leadership with positive change. with the capability of removing those bad apples that have allowed these problems to fester, then you essentially have a status quo of business as usual,” said Duff.
Duff says legislation signed by President Trump last year does make it easier to fire the “bad apples” and also gives veterans more flexibility to find care outside of the VA system. However, there are still problems, including veterans only getting access to private sector care if they live a certain distance from a VA facility. Private providers are also have trouble getting reimbursed from the VA.
With the bureaucracy grinding the system to a halt and sometimes not even putting clean medical instruments into use, Duff says the American people should take a good look at the VA.
“My question to the American people is, ‘Do you see why government-run health care has never helped those that are using it?’ It sounds like an easy fix. It sounds like a possible solution to problems, but what often happens is when you remove private enterprise from the equation, there is not a sense of responsibility,” said Duff.
She says these problems must be dealt with soon or military enlistments will drop.
“We cannot have a nation where we do not take care of those who sacrificed the most, who signed a blank check with their life or their limb for us. That is critical. Who will volunteer for the military if they ever see that this is the end result in their final years of life or even when they’re only thirty-something years old and need health care,” said Duff.
But what should happen now to make sure we never see similar conditions at another VA facility? Duff says President Trump must make it clear this is unacceptable on his watch.
“This is one thing that President Trump ran on. He stated that the VA bureaucracy was something that needed to be taken care of,” said Duff, who encourages Trump to use his Twitter account to call out those responsible.
Regardless of the public relations strategy, Duff says the problems must be solved. She says the courage of the employees at the D.C. facility is a great first step, but meaningful change must follow.
“I admire them for speaking up and if it is being covered up, let’s crack this open. Let’s get this exposed. Let’s have the media go after it.
“I’ll tell you right now, President Trump is not going to tolerate veterans dying on his watch due to a lack of care run by the very system, by the very people he has now appointed. I expect that he will be very aggressive about this,” said Duff.