Congress Demands Answers from VA on Denver Veteran's Suicide
Posted on Oct 06, 2016
Amid heated controversy over an unfinished VA hospital in the Denver area that’s seen its taxpayer-funded cost balloon by over five times the initial estimate (to $1.7 billion), Denver veterans with disability appeals and healthcare needs are suffering from long waits while their taxes fund ongoing construction of the aforementioned medical center. At least one veteran reportedly committed suicide after being turned away when he sought treatment.
The cost of the Aurora, Colorado, VA hospital was originally estimated at $328 million, and initial discussion of the new facility began in the 1990s. Now, the cost of the project is estimated at $1.7 billion and the Denver-area VA medical center won’t open until 2018 at the earliest. As the Denver Post recently reported, last month the Department of Veterans’ Affairs finally responded to a subpoena request from Congress regarding the outrageous bungling of the Aurora VA medical center’s construction by providing transcripts of some interviews with people involved.
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson implored Congress to keep most of the exhibits presented to Congress about the ongoing Aurora veterans’ hospital debacle private, drawing the ire of lawmakers and the public.
According to Congressman Mike Coffman, “Over $1 billion in taxpayer money has been wasted on a single construction project. The VA’s attempt to slow walk the (report’s) release is completely illegal and is deeply offensive to both our taxpayers, who are footing the bill, and our veterans, who do not have access to a hospital that was supposed to be completed years ago.”
Likely the worst and most costly construction failure in the history of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Aurora VA hospital catastrophe has not resulted in the punishment, let alone firing, of anyone at the VA, although two agency officials retired amid Congress’ investigation. As the Denver Post reported: “The VA Office of Inspector General identified several reasons for the massive price hike: notably, poor oversight, an overly expensive design and rampant mismanagement.”
The hospital scandal happens at a terrible time for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, as disabled veterans seeking monthly benefits and VA heathcare in Colorado and many other states face frustrating wait times that have been the subject of intense public scrutiny and even – in the case of the disappearing waitlists in Phoenix that reportedly lead to the deaths of dozens of veterans – congressional investigation. As most Americans now know, the average number of veterans who commit suicide per day is 22. That’s roughly one suicide per hour. Sadly, it can be argued that VA delay is contributing to the sense of hopelessness that leads many veterans to feel they have no reason to go on.
In July, a decorated 26-year-old U.S. Army Ranger suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder committed suicide after reportedly being turned away by the VA hospital in Colorado Springs when he sought PTSD treatment. When a whistleblower notified authorities of the situation, VA officials allegedly forged documents in an attempt to show that inexcusable wait times at the hospital did not lead to the veteran’s tragic death.
In his request for an investigation of the incident and alleged cover-up, Senator Cory Gardner noted that the whistleblower “believes the Colorado Springs facility may have falsified documents after the suicide.” What’s more, the senator noted that VA officials may have threatened the whistleblower with a nefarious privacy violation after he or she told authorities about egregious delay at VA facilities across Colorado and stated that the Colorado Springs VA hospital’s delay played a likely part in causing the veteran’s suicide.
The veteran who committed suicide had served nobly in the Army for six years and should not have been subject to a frustratingly long wait for treatment, let alone turned away.
At the office of Attorney Sean Kendall, we are committed to not only helping veterans appeal unsatisfactory disability decisions from their VA Regional Offices and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals but ensuring that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs does not subject veterans to egregious wait times. No veteran should face inexcusable delays; in fact, it should be VA’s honor to quickly and capably serve the men and women who so honorably served our nation. It should not take a congressional inquiry or public shaming to force VA to adequately care for veterans who need assistance, whether it is healthcare or monthly disability benefits.
If you are having a difficult time with your appeal of a recent VA disability decision and need expert, prompt assistance with your case before a VA Regional Office, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals or the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, please contact our office today at 877-629-1712.