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Mitchell III April 10, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs operates the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system. However, did you know there is a 3rd side to the VA? This less known and less publicized element is The Veterans Health Administration Office of Research and Development (ORD). ORD is the research and development arm of the VA with an operating budget of $1.018 billion according to its 2012 budget. In addition to the agencys $1 billion, the agency receives another $710 million from federal and non-federal grants from outside agencies. According to the VA, ORD performs intramural research in association with providing healthcare in its VA Hospitals. Additionally, 60% of its investigators provide “direct patient care.” In recent months the agency has come under fire for media reports highlighting delays in the agencies cancer screenings that have resulted in veteran deaths. According to the agency in its April 2014 Fact Sheet titled “Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Consult Delay Review the agency states “VA identified 76 patients in its healthcare system who warranted institutional disclosures and of the 76 patients, 23 of them passed away.” The VA continues, by providing a data chart showing the number of disclosures and deaths that have occurred. In writing this story, and upon further review, I discovered that the disclosures and preventable deaths of our nation’s hero’s have occurred at many of the VA’s 141 Office of Research and Development (ORD) medical facilities. Yes, you read correctly. Many of the VA hospitals as we know them also double as the VA research hospitals. Our nation’s veterans are dying of preventable deaths in the nation’s largest integrated research facilities.


In a document obtained from the VA titled “VA Research Improving Veterans Lives- Fact Sheets” the agency touts its “research” program saying, “The program supports improved methods of diagnosing and treating cancer. VA research is uniquely capable of studying cancer because of the programs position within an exceptional national integrated healthcare system for veterans.” With such a great record (according to VA), then why are so many of our veterans dying from a lack of cancer screenings at the nation’s largest research facilities? The agency’s own data suggest that colon cancer can be “cured” “only” if diagnosed early. Yet, the veterans seem to be dying from a lack of screenings and proper healthcare. At the time of this story, it was noted that the VA April 2014 Fact Sheet also identified issues with its consult process, the manner in which a clinical provider would request the opinion or services of a second provider. Not too long ago, VA whistleblower, Oliver Mitchell, a scheduling clerk with the Radiology Department reported to the VA OIG, that Los Angeles officials were engaged in a systemic game to purge a backlog of radiology consults. According to the whistleblower, Mitchell says his supervisors stated “they weren’t providing good healthcare and that by purging the consults they were playing the system.” Congress is currently investigating the matter. In a story by Sheila Bailey, spokeswoman for the Hampton VA Medical Center also designated as a VA research facility was quoted saying “the VA strives to complete 90% of diagnostic colonoscopies within 60 days.” It’s ironic that Ms. Bailey would make such a statement when the Hampton VA is listed on the April 2014 Fact Sheet with 7 disclosures and 2 veteran deaths. At a time when the House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs is conducting hearings on the patients deaths; we learn that our nations hero’s are dying at the hands of VA doctors and staff who provide direct patient care in some of the largest medical research facilities in the country. And it gets better. Did you know the VA can now predict death? In a study published in 2002, the VA conducted a study to define risk factors that predict the

30 day morbidity and mortality rate for cancer in Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers. The agency collected data on 708 patients for cancer in 123 participating VA Medical Centers. They found models that predict 30 day morbidity and mortality. Grimm reaper meet VA, VA meets veteran, veteran meets Grimm Reaper. It’s further noted that the VA concluded the study saying “assigning relative weights to factors associated with adverse outcomes may help improve patient care.” And in yet another study, published in May 2012, the VA conducted a study to “find out which methods work best for preventing colon cancer deaths.” Yet we’ve had 76 disclosures, 23 deaths and now the Phoenix VA Medical Center is reporting as many as 40 deaths related to delays in healthcare. And yes, the Phoenix VA is on the list as a designated research facility. We have a string of veteran deaths across the country. In VA research facilities, with studies that they say “cancer can be cured if diagnosed early.” I think we need more than accountability; we need the truth from the VA. In the summer of 2012, Dr. Uzma Samadari, M.D. Ph.D. a VA Physician did an interview in which she stated “the biggest advantage of the VA is that it allows you to practice medicine without the extra baggage that comes with it. It allows you to do research, if that interests you. You can practice in the VA system without performing research, however, I think the ability to do research is one of the biggest perks of the job and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it.” Now isn’t that something? Next time you see your VA doctor; ask him, hey doc are you providing healthcare or research care?

Oliver B. Mitchell III is a former Marine and former VA employee turned whistleblower.



Copyright Oliver B. Mitchell III 2014. All rights reserved. This article cannot be copied, reposted, published, republished or edited without prior consent of author.