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Patient Care Complaints Spur Federal Probe Into Oklahoma City VA Medical Center

The Veterans Administration Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City VA Medical Center
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The Veterans Administration Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

Federal investigators are looking into allegations of poor patient care at the Veterans Administration’s Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City VA Health Care spokeswoman Stacy Rine told The Oklahoman the investigation came after an in-depth national newspaper story about inadequate care and incorrect diagnoses of five patients at the facility.

USA Today’s Donovan Slack spoke with George Purifoy, a Vietnam Veteran who sought treatment for intense pain for bone damage to his nose after a round of radiation therapy:

VA clinicians in Muskogee and Tulsa, Okla., thought it was a dental problem and sent him for root canals and other procedures. Now, he has no nose, no front teeth, and he’s still in debilitating pain. Last year, Congress passed the Choice Act designed to allow veterans to seek care in the private sector if their local VA could not meet their needs. Yet the Oklahoma City VA is forcing Purifoy to travel for treatment to a VA facility in Shreveport, La. — a six-hour drive from his home — even though a non-VA hospital is literally across the street. “I really can’t tell you how I do it,” Purifoy said. “I ignore the pain. I just know I’ve got to live one way or the other. I mean, I’m not going to roll over and die just because the VA’s not taking care of me and other veterans.”

Charles Hand, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, was told there were no fractures in his jaw after a September 2014 fall. But a CT scan he received that day showed a large tumor, according to Slack:

It was actually cancer. It has now spread to his liver and lungs. When his primary care doctor finally decided something might be wrong with his jaw — five months after the tumor was missed on the scan — it took another four months for the VA to diagnose the cancer. “Now my wife and my son will tell you that I’m a sweet, lovable, pliable, easy-to-get-along-with fellow, but there’s some things that bug me,” Hand said. “And that bugged me extremely.” Three other patients also claimed poor patient care in the USA Today story, which says the VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City ranks poorly in patient care, with a high rate of turnover among the staff.

Oklahoma’s two U.S. Senators called the allegations unacceptable. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe told The Oklahoman’s Randy Ellis his office worked hundreds of cases last year where Oklahoma veterans faced inadequate care, or couldn’t access their benefits:

"This past fall I personally brought the VA's chief of staff to Oklahoma to see firsthand the progress that needs to be made toward improving health care for our veterans," Inhofe said. "Following his visit, I also initiated a full review by the VA's office of inspector general of Oklahoma's VA facilities. This is an epidemic not only at the Oklahoma City VA Center, but across the state." Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said progress in improving this nation's medical centers for veterans has been too slow. . . . Lankford noted that Congress passed legislation earlier this year to give veterans more choice in where they can obtain medical care, both within the VA and through private sector facilities. "I am working with the regional Veterans Integrated Service Network-19 leadership to get a director in place at the Oklahoma City and Muskogee veterans facilities, and I will closely monitor the VA's progress," he said. "Our veterans deserve better, and I will fight to ensure they receive the care they have earned."

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