VA paid millions in settlements to conceal its problem employees

Investigation reveals that the federal department has been obscuring the mistakes of its healthcare workers for years

VA paid millions in settlements to conceal its problem employees

Life & Health

By Lyle Adriano

A recent investigation has uncovered the Department of Veterans Affairs’ biggest secret: the nation’s largest employer of healthcare workers has concealed the mistakes and misdeeds of its staff for years.

USA Today conducted an investigation leafing through hundreds of confidential VA records from 2014 and 2015. The records include 230 settlement deals that were not disclosed to the public – deals where the agency spent nearly $6.7 million. In some of those cases, the employees who received the settlements were whistle-blowers or appear to have been wronged by the VA. For the remaining cases, however, the employees were the problem.

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The records reveal that veterans’ hospitals struck secret deals with numerous doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers with promises to cover up any mistakes the staffers committed (such as inappropriate relationships and dangerous medical errors).

In total, the investigation found 126 settlement cases wherein the workers’ mistakes or misdeeds were so grave that they should be fired. In 75% of those settlements, the VA agreed to purge negative records from personnel files or give neutral or positive references to prospective employers.

In 70 of the settlements, the VA prohibited employees from working in its hospitals for years – or for life, in some cases. The agency enforced this despite promising in most of the cases to conceal the specific reason why the employees can no longer work.

Public Citizen in Washington health research group director Dr. Michael Carome explained that removing records from personnel files and providing neutral references could be dangerous, especially if these questionable employees continue to practice.

“It’s unacceptable,” he told USA Today. “What they are saying is, ‘We don’t want you to work for us, but we’ll help you get a job elsewhere.’ That’s outrageous.”

Podiatrist Thomas Franchini was one such risk. According to VA medical experts, there were 88 medical cases where Franchini made mistakes that harmed veterans at the Togus hospital in Maine.

Agency officials did not fire Franchini or report him to a national database that tracks problem doctors, but instead allowed him to quietly resign and move on to private practice; he now works as a podiatrist in New York City.

Unfortunately for the Maine veterans that received substandard care from Franchini, federal lawyers have moved to dismiss the class action lawsuit the patients filed, saying that the veterans waited too long to file a suit.

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