Angling For Military Vote, Rick Scott Looks to Sue Feds for Blocking VA Hospital Inspections
FlaglerLive | May 28, 2014
Gov. Rick Scott, who has increased efforts to appeal to military voters as he seeks re-election, wants to sue the federal government for blocking state inspectors from Veterans Administration hospitals.
The state Agency for Health Care Administration, at Scott’s urging, said Wednesday it will file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seeking to allow state inspectors access to Florida-based VA hospitals so they can determine if the health care needs of veterans are being met.
While no legal action has been taken, AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said in an email that “the agency will take the necessary actions to hold the VA accountable.”
Mary Kay Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said it would be “inappropriate for us to speculate” on the specifics of Florida’s litigation until it is filed.
State inspectors have been trying for more than a month to gain access to the federal facilities to conduct a review of allegations of inappropriate scheduling and treatment that have been reported at VA facilities nationwide.
The governor’s request follows his call May 21 for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign as investigations are ongoing into the treatment of veterans, and the potential cover-up of delayed care, at 26 health clinics nationwide, including the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville.
“To date, Secretary Shinseki has refused to step down, our inspectors continue to be turned away, and none of the information we’ve asked for has been provided,” Scott said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Transparency and accountability are critical to supporting our veterans, and this suit will fight the federal VA’s continued practice of stonewalling our inspectors.”
Calls for Shinseki to resign were heightened Wednesday after the federal agency’s Office of Inspector General released a preliminary report indicating that delayed medical care, along with efforts to hide records, was “systemic” throughout the veterans’ health system.
According to AHCA, state staff members were denied access to Malcom Randall on May 19. Also, between April 3 and April 14 they were blocked from access to medical clinics in Gainesville, Lake City, Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach.
A spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said Scott has failed to help an estimated 41,000 veterans in Florida by declining to expand access to health care through the federal Affordable Care Act.
“It’s unfortunate that Rick Scott may be attempting to inject politics (through calling for a lawsuit against the VA) into a tragic situation,” Crist spokesman Kevin Cate said Wednesday.
Crist accused Scott of using the VA issue as a “political tool” last week.
The Republican Party of Florida has responded that Crist is the one “exploiting” the issue, noting that the former governor included a link to his political campaign and a fundraising page when tweeting his own message that Shinseki should resign.
The state currently is home to 1.5 million veterans, with nearly a third from the Vietnam era and 231,000 having served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Scott, who served in the Navy, turned his attention to the veterans’ hospital issue on April 1, a day after signing the “Florida GI Bill,” a wide-ranging measure modeled after the federal World War II-era program.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida