The Department of Veterans Affairs for years relied on old and illegal policy allowing VA hospitals to hire medical workers even if their licenses had been revoked, according to a USA Today investigation.
In 2002 the VA issued national guidelines giving hospitals the discretion to hire clinicians with revoked licenses after considering the facts of the the situation and as long as the individual still had a license in at least one state. But three years earlier in 1999, Congress passed a law prohibiting the VA from employing any health care workers whose license has been revoked in any state. The VA confirmed the existence and use of the 2002 guidelines to USA Today.
Those illegal guidelines, USA Today discovered, have resulted in the hiring of doctors and other health care workers who never should have been employed to take care of veterans. For example, USA Today reported the VA in Iowa City hired neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider earlier this year, even though his application showed he had a number of malpractice claims and settlements against him, and Wyoming revoked his license when a patient died in his care. The neurosurgeon still had a license in Montana. So the VA hired him, USA Today found. The VA moved to fire Schneider at the end of November, after USA Today lodged inquiries about his case.
VA Secretary David Shulkin, who has been praised by President Trump for his work at the VA, told USA Today he has ordered a rewriting of those guidelines to reflect the law. It's unclear if VA leadership was aware of the national guidelines prior to the USA Today investigation. Shulkin was first appointed to leadership in the VA by former President Barack Obama in 2015.
"It's very clear to me that our job is to have the best quality doctors that we can provide to take care of veterans, and that's going to be our policy," Shulkin told USA Today.
Shulkin also told the publication the VA he has launched a nationwide review to find and remove any other health care providers who shouldn't be caring for veterans. Dozens of members of Congress have also demanded answers from the VA on the problem.
Subpar medical service has long been a problem at the VA, which is still trying to repair its care and reputation after the 2014 wait time scandal in which veterans died while they waited on secret wait lists. VA workers were even incentivized with bonuses to hide wait times, whistleblowers said.
© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.