Another VA Doctor Comes Forward in Phoenix

After 9/11 and the subsequent U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, patriotism surged throughout the country as citizens cheered on and prayed for American troops overseas. With such affection for the military, people may believe that soldiers and veterans receive top-notch care in the Veterans Administration healthcare system. However, new evidence is coming to light that members of the military in need of urgent medical care are receiving anything but quality services. In fact, Phoenix VA physicians have provided evidence that secret waiting lists exist that delay much needed treatment for veterans and put these soldiers’ health at grave risk.

Bringing this evidence to light, however, has proven to be risky for the physicians themselves. One doctor in particular, Dr. Katherine Mitchell of the Phoenix VA facility, has gone on record with accounts of how patient records were willfully and purposely destroyed to conceal the serious delays and deficiencies in medical care. She and another doctor made paper copies of patient records that were about to be deleted from the facility’s computer system. When she and her colleague beseeched the VA police department to hide the records, however, they were rebuffed and told to hide the evidence elsewhere.

This willingness to pass along responsibility to others and failure to act does not belong to the VA police department in Phoenix alone. Indeed, Dr. Mitchell goes on to tell the public that she was continuously rebuffed by her superiors when she tried to raise the alarm about the lack of good medical care for veterans. When she pointed out that the lack of quality nursing staff contributed to a rising number of patient suicides. Dr. Mitchell instead was told that she was to blame, and that her own inadequacy in treating patients was the reason so many soldiers at the facility chose to take their own lives instead of waiting for medical help. She faced reprimands, disciplinary actions and threats to her career simply because she came forward with her concerns.

With her testimony and growing evidence about the secret lists coming to light, Congress and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs have ordered that records be preserved and all of the information available about this scandal be reviewed. Despite these orders, Dr. Mitchell still must deal with the actions taken against her by her employer, the VA hospital in Phoenix. She has been placed on administrative leave and could lose her physician’s job entirely because she chose not to ignore patients being mistreated and neglected on her watch.