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Leaked Internal Memo Shows How VA Systematically Screws Over Wounded Vets to Maintain Performance Grades

A newly surfaced internal memo shows that VA health facilities get good grades by delaying and denying care.

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The problems VA faces from the current wars are staggering. From the Pentagon and VA's own reported data, we know that in addition to some 4,400 U.S. troop fatalities, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been responsible for some 86,000 casualties, 37,280 wounded in action and 48,272 medically evacuated due to injury or illness. As much of 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (360,000) may have suffered traumatic brain injury from IED blasts, according to a DoD estimate issued last year. Every day 18 U.S. veterans attempt suicide, more than four times the national average. There are 537,099 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran patients in the VA system, and thousands more wait as much as a year for VA treatment.

Schoenhard, who recently retired from an administrative career in private health care, is new to the VA system, which he joined in February. He alone knows his purpose in providing administrators with the elaborate documentation of tricks. One thing we can be sure of is that VA has a scandal on its hands. How it faces it and underlying problems could mean life or death for hundreds of thousands of veterans from current and past wars. According to Sullivan, "another tidal wave" of Vietnam War veterans with PTSD and Agent Orange-related problems is flooding into VA facilities. And recent studies on toxic exposure and Gulf War illness are causing even more veterans to seek VA health care.

The revelation of gaming is only one of many scandals plaguing VA health care. Botched prostate surgery, substandard suicide prevention, reuse of un-sanitized medical devices--the list goes on. Tainted colonoscopy equipment discovered in 2008 in multiple VA facilities---which has sickened scores of veterans with HIV and hepatitis--continues to be a "systemic issue," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki admitted just last week.

Using dirty equipment is not an "issue" and ignoring sick veterans and faking documents to hide the fact is not a "game" -- these are crimes. VA needs to abandon its alternative virtual universe and dedicate its time and ingenuity to actual veterans suffering real injuries and illness.

This week, as we wave our flags, watch the sky explode, and sing of rockets' glare and America the beautiful, let's not forget the ugly rockets, bombs and toxins killing, maiming and sickening invaded populations and our own young soldiers, who return home to a brutal health care bureaucracy fixed above all else on its own survival.

Nora Eisenberg is the director of the City University of New York's fellowship program for emerging scholars. Her short stories, essays and reviews have appeared in such places as Partisan Review, Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times and Tikkun. She is the author of three novels. Her most recent novel, When You Come Home (Curbstone, 2009), explores the the 1991 Gulf War and Gulf War illness.

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