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The VA: Stop this contagion

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Thursday, May 8, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Like a rapidly spreading contagion, mounting evidence shows the Department of Veterans Affairs dishonoring its sacred mission and evading accountability in multiple locations — a systemic ailment that requires a drastic cure.

VA health-care facilities' deadly Pittsburgh-area Legionella outbreak is but one symptom. Another, first alleged by a newly retired VA doctor who told CNN at least 40 veterans died awaiting care in Phoenix, is use of sham waiting lists to conceal months-long waits for doctor's appointments from VA officials in Washington.

After the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman asked the VA to order evidence preserved in Phoenix, it waited eight days before doing so. Now, another Phoenix VA doctor, alleging evidence destruction, has provided sham-list records to the Arizona Republic.

An internal VA investigation has found another sham waiting list was used at a VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., USA Today reports. But that probe couldn't confirm resulting harm to veterans, and VA officials there — blaming confusion, not malfeasance — aren't disciplining anyone.

It's all too much for the American Legion, whose commander is calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down. His resignation would be fitting, but the VA's systemic ills can't be treated solely at the top or bottom — and it can't be trusted to heal itself.

The VA desperately needs a thorough housecleaning at all levels — and Congress must ensure that happens.

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