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'Significant' failures found in VA review

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The findings

• As of June 23, the independent Office of Special Counsel, a government investigative arm, had more than 50 pending cases that allege threats to patient health or safety.

• One-fourth of all the whistle-blower cases under review across the federal government come from the VA. The department “encourages discontent and backlash against employees.”

• The VA's lack of resources reflects troubles in the health care field as a whole and in the federal government. But the VA has been unable to connect its budget needs to specific outcomes.

• The VA needs to better prepare for changes in the demographic profile of veterans, including more female veterans, a surge in mental health needs and a growing number of older veterans.

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Friday, June 27, 2014, 9:15 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — In a scathing appraisal, a review ordered by President Obama of the troubled Veterans Affairs health care system concludes that medical care for veterans is beset by “significant and chronic system failures,” substantially verifying problems raised by whistle-blowers and internal and congressional investigators.

A summary of the review by deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors says the Veterans Health Administration must be restructured and that a “corrosive culture” has hurt morale and affected the timeliness of health care. The review found that a 14-day standard for scheduling veterans' medical appointments is unrealistic and that some employees manipulated the wait times so they would appear to be shorter.

The review is the latest blistering assessment of the VA in the wake of reports of patients dying while waiting for appointments and of treatment delays in VA facilities nationwide. The White House released a summary of the review following President Obama's meeting Friday with Nabors and Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson.

The review offers a series of recommendations, including a need for more doctors, nurses and trained administrative staff. Those recommendations are likely to face skepticism among some congressional Republicans who have blamed the VA's problems on mismanagement, not lack of resources.

The White House released the summary after Obama returned from a two-day trip to Minneapolis and promptly ducked into the Oval Office to get an update on the administration's response to the VA troubles from Gibson and Nabors.

“We know that unacceptable, systemic problems and cultural issues within our health system prevent veterans from receiving timely care,” Gibson said in a statement following the meeting. “We can and must solve these problems as we work to earn back the trust of veterans.”

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