Thursday, April 10, 2014
VA Needs to Be ‘Transparent, Accountable’, National Commander Tells NY Members
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system needs to be more transparent and its leaders must be held accountable for mistakes that result in needless deaths at their facilities.
That was a key message that American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger brought to the New York Legion Family during a swing through the Empire State April 9-11.
Fresh on the heels on testifying before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in Washington, D.C., Dellinger spoke at dinners in his honor in the central, eastern and southern parts of the state.
Due to his Congressional testimony earlier in the day, along with a flight delay, Dellinger arrived late to dinner at Robert Edwards Post 358 in Pulaski Wednesday, April 9, where he received a standing ovation from some 200 members of the Legion, Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion (SAL). The next day he lunched with Legion Family leaders in Saratoga Springs, met with newspaper reporters, and spoke at a dinner in the Holiday Inn-Saratoga Springs before a crowd of some 400 people. On Friday he makes his way to New York City to lunch with Legion Family leaders at Victor Koenig’s in Floral Park and later address a crowd of nearly 700 during dinner at Antun’s in Queens Village.
Dellinger recounted how he met an Army veteran at the hearing, suffering an advanced stage of cancer due to misdiagnosis and delays in getting proper diagnostic procedures at the VA. He also referred to an outbreak of Legionella bacteria at Pittsburgh VA medical center that killed six patients and sickened others. When a team from the Legion’s System Worth Saving (SWS) Task Force visited the facility last November, administrators claimed the outbreak was caused by equipment failure. E-mails and internal memos indicate human error, however. At another facility he cited dirty equipment, and still another, two veterans died of an overdose and one committed suicide, attributed to mismanagement and inability to get the mental health care they needed in a timely manner.
As he told the Congressional hearing: “Patient deaths are tragic — preventable deaths are unacceptable. But failure to disclose safety information — or worse — to cover up mistakes, is unforgivable, and The American Legion will not sit quietly by while some VA employees cover up the truth – and the VA shouldn’t, either.”
The national commander also said the American Legion was continuing to push the VA to cut the backlog of benefits claims and improve the accuracy of processing those claims. The VA says it has an accuracy rate in excess of 90 percent. “We say it’s 56 percent,” he noted, calling for cooperation and transparency by the VA.
Dellinger praised and thanked the New York Legion Family members for all they do for veterans, and also encouraged every post to submit reports on its activities so The American Legion can tell a more complete story on its impact on families, community and nation. Last year, he said, the Legion served 220,000 youth, raised $22 million for children and youth programs, and served 3.8 million volunteer hours — and that’s only with 57 percent of posts reporting what they do.
As he mentioned to news reporters, veterans take off the uniform, but still serve community and nation in the Legion. “It’s who were are. It’s our fabric… 95 years and counting.”