Leaders of the nation's two largest veterans service organizations have called on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to get involved personally in looking into allegations of abuse, nurses sleeping on the job and substandard care at VA nursing homes.
"While much of the media's attention has been on the proper implementation of VA healthcare legislation, we cannot forget about 46,000 mostly senior veterans who reside in these nursing homes," American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad and Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander B.J. Lawrence said in a joint statement Wednesday.
Reistad and Lawrence, who represent more than four million veterans, cited a series of reports by USA Today and the Boston Globe on shortcomings in the rating systems for the more than 130 nursing facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The reports also said internal documents showed veterans in VA nursing homes were more likely to have bedsores and experience chronic pain than residents of private-sector nursing homes.
The VA has heatedly disputed the reports as "false and inflammatory."
The latest joint USA Today- Boston Globe report Wednesday cited a whistleblower's complaint about poor care and oversight at the VA nursing home in Brockton, Massachusetts.
In a Twitter posting Wednesday, the Office of Special Counsel, the independent federal agency that protects whistleblowers, said that a "brave whistleblower" had come forward on the Brockton facility.
As a result, "VA investigators were able to substantiate that patients were routinely receiving substandard care at a Brockton, Mass. nursing home -- including nurses caught sleeping while on duty," the Office of Special Counsel said.
In July, the House Veterans Affairs Committee announced that it would conduct its own review of VA nursing homes, but the results of that review have yet to be released.
In a statement Wednesday, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said charges that 70 percent of VA nursing homes were substandard according to the VA's own rating system were "false and inflammatory, and could actually discourage veterans from seeking the care they have earned."
He said that the VA's one-to-five star rating system, when compared to the 15,487 private sector nursing homes rated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, showed that the VA "has a significantly lower percentage of one-star, or lowest rated, facilities than the rest of the nation."
The latest ratings show that the number of one-star VA nursing homes has decreased from 58 in March to 45 currently, Cashour said.
Despite the VA's claims of improving care at nursing homes, American Legion Commander Reistad and VFW Commander Lawrence, in separate statements, said the VA needed to be more transparent on its ratings and standards for care.
"Those who sleep on the job and ignore the best interests of their patients need to find a different employer," Reistad said.
"The VA must improve its delivery of quality care at these facilities," Lawrence said. "It is not a right but a privilege to work for America's veterans, and anything less is unacceptable."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com.