Editorial: Conclusively asserting our lament

Aug. 27, 2014 @ 11:42 PM

Carefully wording a sensitive report on a government scandal included an encouraging message. It is, however, a little too good.

The 40 deaths at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, according to the report, were not necessarily due to delays while awaiting care. It read, “While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.”

We neither buy into nor dismiss the report from the VA inspector general. The true answer is we’ll never know. The report should have indicated as much, rather than a perception absolving liability.

The inspector general’s office is independent of the VA. Physicians, special agents, auditors and health inspectors did the work, examining records for the 40 who died. They also went through 1 million emails and 190,000 computer files.

Dr. Samuel Foote, the whistleblower with more than 20 years in that hospital, wasn’t moved.

“What kind of standard is conclusively assert?” Foote asked. “Without question, their statement was worded such that the reader will assume that no harm came to the patient due to the delay in care. That is unlikely to be true.”

Think about it: in the 21st century practice of medicine, time is often critical to successful healing. Early detection and prevention are common phrases with meaning, and it seems counter to our culture to believe veterans — no different than anyone else — could not be affected by extensive wait times.

Did we think the report would have a list of deaths with direct relation to the extensive wait times? That’s doubtful in this litigious malpractice age. Were all deaths related to delays? That would seem unlikely as well.

On the same day in Charlotte, President Obama spoke of a trust factor being rebuilt for veterans and the VA. The government-produced report has facts and acknowledgment of mistakes. But doctored spin hurts integrity of the findings.

The inspector general’s report has elements that can help veterans immediately. Trust will take more time.