Maybe it’s too late to change the course of the midterm elections, but over the weekend, the Arizona Republic dropped a gigantic bombshell on the VA scandal:
A top Department of Veterans Affairs official and a White House appointee successfully pressed for changes in an inspector general’s report on the Phoenix VA medical center.
According to newly released documents, the report was amended to add a finding that there was no conclusive evidence that delays in care resulted in veteran deaths.
In recent congressional testimony, acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin adamantly denied that changes in the final report, which downplayed links between delayed care and up to 40 veteran deaths, had been “dictated” by VA headquarters.
But e-mails released Friday by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs show that Sloan Gibson, who had been acting VA secretary, personally corresponded with Griffin in early August, asking him to amend the report.
Soooo… does that mean Richard Griffin lied during his testimony to Congress? I’m old enough to remember when there were consequences for such behavior.
Specifically, Gibson asked the inspector general to add findings about a Phoenix whistle-blower’s claim that up to 40 veterans died awaiting care.
E-mails show White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, appointed by President Barack Obama this summer to monitor the VA scandal, also urged the change. The e-mails also asked the OIG to share its planned “message” to the media about veterans’ deaths.
Once the report was revised to include new language, records show,Assistant Inspector General John Daigh sent an e-mail to a VA administrator, asking, “Was the message on the deaths well received by leadership?”
Later, Gibson sent a note to Griffin, whom he addressed as “Griff.”
“Thanks on all counts!” for changes in the Phoenix report, he wrote. “I appreciate the focus on the 40 deaths …”
Yes, the White House certainly did appreciate those changes. As the Arizona Republic recalls, some very handy talking points blossomed from the less inhospitable political soil of the revised report:
The Aug. 26 OIG report confirmed that Phoenix VA Health Care System systematically falsified appointment records and provided untimely care to thousands of patients, some of whom suffered adverse affects.
With regard to allegations that 40 veterans had died, however, the report said inspectors “were unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.”
In subsequent press interviews, Gibson recited that phrase as a vindication for the VA; some media reported that the finding debunked allegations by the Phoenix whistle-blower, Dr. Sam Foote.
Foote never asserted that patients had died “because” of untimely treatment. He said they died while awaiting care in a dishonest system, and he asked the inspector general to investigate a potential linkage.
No previous OIG report has ever listed untimely care as the cause of a death, and medical experts say that would be an impossibility: Death is caused by a disease or injury, and delayed care could only be a contributing factor.
Foote testified that the OIG finding was a “whitewash” and a retaliatory smear that would discourage other potential whistle-blowers. Members of Congress also expressed skepticism about the finding, and grilled VA officials during hearings.
Oh, is that how this game is played? Being put on a secret death list doesn’t kill you. It’s the disease or injury that kills you. Failing to receive care because some corrupt bureaucrat deleted your name out of the VA computer system to make his books look better, so he can collect a fat bonus check, is just a “contributing factor.” How’s that grab you, veterans and military families? Would President Obama like to hold a press conference where he personally gives that explanation to the relatives of those who perished on the waiting list?
This is all part of the usual Obama scandal management tactic: cook up a few phony talking points to keep the bad stuff from reaching critical mass within a single news cycle. They don’t need a particularly deep whitewash to survive; just a little softening will do. As long as Obama’s proxies have something to talk about during a few rounds of Sunday shows, the scandal can be defused, or dragged out until it dies of old age. The original version of the IG report would have been dynamite. The news that the White House secured concessions on the report should be dynamite… but there’s an election gobbling up the news, and before that was Ebola, and before that it was ISIS. The VA thing is, what, six or seven scandals ago? More?