Then-Senator Barack Obama, November 12, 2007: “After seven years of an Administration that has stretched our military to the breaking point, ignored deplorable conditions at some VA hospitals, and neglected the planning and preparation necessary to care for our returning heroes, America’s veterans deserve a President who will fight for them not just when it’s easy or convenient, but every hour of every day for the next four years.”
By 2012, Obama continued to compare the performance of the VA during his administration favorably to his predecessor, declaring, “For the first time ever, we’ve made military families and veterans a top priority not just at DOD, not just at the VA, but across the government.”
When Shinseki took office, he vowed that every disability claim would be processed within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. But the backlogs only got worse.
It took about four months for VA to process a claim for disability compensation claim when Shinseki was sworn in. By 2012, the average wait time was about nine months.
In February 2013, the Examiner published a five-part series, “Making America’s Heroes Wait,” showing more than 1.1 million veterans with disability claims and appeals were trapped in bureaucratic limbo at VA.
About 70 percent of the 900,000 claims for initial benefits were considered backlogged, meaning they were older than 125 days.
The Examiner series also showed how agency statistics were manipulated to hide mistakes that doomed veterans into appeals that could drag on for years.
There were some early signs then that VA’s failures in delivering medical care were having deadly consequences.
An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was reported in Pittsburgh in November 2012. Subsequent investigations by the inspector general and area media eventually linked a half-dozen patient deaths from the disease to faulty maintenance and poor management.
Reports of other deaths followed.
Four patients under VA’s care in Atlanta died of a drug overdose or suicides.
In Columbia, S.C., at least six patient deaths from colorectal cancers were linked to delays in receiving colonoscopies at veterans’ medical facilities.
VA eventually acknowledged that delays in providing care was linked to the deaths of 23 patients who died of gastrointestinal cancers at veterans’ health facilities. Deaths from other conditions were not disclosed.