A U.S. Senate hearing held in Chicago focused on how one Illinois veterans' hospital has gotten worse, even with the extra scrutiny placed on the Veterans Administration.
More than a year after the Hines VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois was identified as one of several veterans' hospitals which kept veterans on secret waiting lists, delaying appointments for months.During the hearing, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) asked Germaine Clarno, a social worker at Hines and president of the union chapter which represents Hines workers, about the new appointment policies. She said the hospital is now overbooking appointments and making veterans wait so long that many decide to leave before seeing a doctor.
"The VA's very good at when they get caught doing one thing, they create another way to manipulate," Clarno said. "So they're not doing the same tactics because they got busted."
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Clarno says if the veteran decides to leave, no one at the VA is held responsible for the veteran waiting so long for an appointment.
Beyond the scheduling concerns, Clarno and others testified that the hospital administration has continued to retaliate against employees who speak out about problems ranging from billing fraud to performing unnecessary procedures.
"Hell hath no fury like a VA administration scorned," said Dr. Lisa Nee, a former cardiologist at Hines who says administrators continue to retaliate against her even after her resignation.
Kirk wants to address these issues with legislation called the VA Patient Protection Act, which Nee said "properly punish VA supervisors who have been found to take retaliatory actions against whistleblowers.
While Kirk's focus in the VA scandal has been on Hines, he says there's at least one other facility in Illinois he's worried about.
"I've heard some concerns about the Marion VA," Kirk said, without offering specifics.