Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin speaks alongside Vice President Mike Pence after being sworn-in during a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. on February 14, 2017. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 3 (UPI) -- More than two dozen members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the Christmas break demanding the agency take swift action on allegations it has illegally hired doctors with revoked medical licenses.
The letter, made public on Tuesday, was signed by 31 members of Congress and sent to the VA following reports that the VA has hired health care providers with revoked licenses for at least 15 years.
"We need to ensure our nation's veterans receive the highest quality care from the best providers possible," Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., said in a statement. "For the VA to be illegally hiring doctors who failed to meet that standard in their previous jobs is very troubling and absolutely unacceptable."
In the letter, members of Congress ask for information on actions to terminate employees who should never have been hired by the VA, actions taken to discipline the professional standards boards who cleared the hiring of those providers with histories of misconduct and malpractice, any department-wide guidance on how medical facilities review and conduct their hiring processes and actions taken to identify other current providers within the VA who have had disciplinary actions taken against them.
The issue came to light after a USA Today investigation found that a VA hospital in Iowa City, Iowa, hired neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider, despite him telling officials that he lost his medical license and that he had accumulated more than a dozen malpractice claims and settlements in two different states. The allegations against Schneider include that he made "surgical mistakes that left patients maimed, paralyzed or dead."
VA officials later determined Schneider's hiring was illegal and that an unknown number of other doctors in the VA system may have been hired illegally as well.
Follow-up investigations found the VA has allowed hospitals to hire doctors with revoked licenses for at least 15 years, which is a violation of a 1999 federal law prohibiting the agency from employing any health care worker whose license has been revoked by any state.
A report by the Government Accountability Office found the VA also "failed to conduct appropriate reviews and report doctors who received adverse privileging actions to state medical boards and other databases," according to the letter.
"The hiring of doctors who have had their medical licenses revoked in any state is already prohibited, and clinical hires must be cleared through professional standards boards," members of Congress write in the letter. "However, it appears the laws and regulations establishing that prohibition are not being followed by VA medical facilities."
VA Secretary David Shulkin told USA Today he has already ordered a re-writing of the hiring guidelines and launched a nationwide review to identify and remove any health care workers with revoked licenses.
"I would like to thank Secretary Shulkin and the administration for jumping on this issue... veterans deserve the best care we can give them," Jones said. "When problems like this are identified, it is very important that they be rectified immediately so that no veteran's health is jeopardized."
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump thanked Shulkin via twitter, saying, "We will not rest until all of America's GREAT VETERANS can receive the care they so richly deserve. Tremendous progress has been made in a short period of time. Keep up the great work @SecShulkin @DeptVetAffairs!"