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Report reveals secret practice of concealing VA workers' mistakes

Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who have been kicked out of the Veterans Administration may still be working. One may be practicing near you.

A new investigative report by USA TODAY found evidence of a longstanding, secret policy at VA hospitals and clinics that churn bad practitioners out the door without discipline or even required reporting. The purpose of doing so was apparently to keep accused practitioners from challenging the discipline they deserved.

According to USA TODAY, some agency managers didn't report problems to the National Practitioner Data, which made it easier for doctors and healthcare practitioners to continue practicing. The agency also didn't make certain that VA hospitals were reporting discipline to state licensing boards.

In other cases, the report reveals, VA hospitals secretly settled with dozens of physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers who were accused of serious misconduct such as making dangerous medical errors or having inappropriate relationships. The hospitals did force these practitioners out of the VA but the secret settlements allowed them to keep practicing.

USA TODAY says its reporters reviewed around 230 secret settlements and hundreds of confidential records from the VA. Around 70 settlements reporters reviewed involved practitioners being banned for life from working with the VA, even as the agency generally worked to conceal the reasons why. In at least 126 cases, reporters claim, the workers had committed errors or misdeeds so serious that they should have been fired -- and the VA purged their records and gave neutral or positive references when those practitioners applied for outside jobs.

The report concludes that these decisions are not the result of individual "bad apples" but rather a longstanding, secret policy.

As you're probably aware, the VA has been highly criticized in recent years for failures in patient care and attempts at cover-ups. Hundreds of employees have been fired, but the specific reasons are being held secret, just as in the other cases.

The USA TODAY piece is quite long and detailed, and we recommend you read all of it. There are specific examples of failed practitioners who have apparently been shuttled along into private practice with no report to licensing boards and little regard for future patients' safety and wellbeing.

If these allegations are true, then VA supervisors have aided and abetted malpractice and serious misconduct. They appear to have knowingly allowed poor and even dangerous practitioners to move along to non-VA patients simply to avoid the hassle of defending their disciplinary decisions.

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