Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday he plans to sue the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in an attempt to force the agency to allow the state to inspect its Florida hospitals.
At Scott's order, the state Agency for Health Care Administration has made several unannounced visits to inspect VA hospitals. Each time they were blocked and Veterans Affairs responded with three letters — one to Scott and two to AHCA Secretary Elizabeth Dudek stating that federal facilities aren't subject to state laws.
Scott said the lawsuit will seek to allow access to the facilities, including the hospital in Gainesville, where the governor said inspectors were actually turned away a second time.
“Then when we heard about the Gainesville facility, having this secret wait list, we sent our inspection team back, assuming they would want some help making sure veterans get great care,” Scott said in a phone interview with Channel 4. “I'm a veteran. My dad's a veteran. Many family members are veterans. I have lots of friends who are veterans. We want quality care, and again, it doesn't make any sense to me, but at the Gainesville facility, we were turned down twice.”
The action comes as 26 VA facilities nationwide are under investigation after allegations about treatment delays and secret waiting lists intended to hide delays in care.
There are nearly 1.5 million veterans in Florida, with nearly a third from the Vietnam era and more than 200,000 having served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The state visited VA hospitals in West Palm Beach, Bay Pines, Miami, Lake City, Gainesville and Tampa in April and returned to the Gainesville hospital in May.
Instead, Veterans Affairs offered to schedule a meeting between the agencies to discuss programs and policies.
"It is my understanding that AHCA representatives have continued to arrive unannounced at VA Medical Centers within the State of Florida. Please be advised that VA and its Medical Centers are components of the Federal government and as such are not subject to Florida laws," wrote Veterans Affairs lawyer Will Gunn. "A number of Federal laws restrict dissemination of VA records, including those compiled for quality assurance purposes."
So far, the VA is not responding to the governor's lawsuit, only saying in a statement it would be inappropriate to speculate until any litigation is filed. But veterans Channel 4 talked to Wednesday were eager to respond.
Arnold Knight, an Army vet from the '70s and '80s, said other than wait times, he's had a good experience with the VA.
William Young, on the other hand, said navigating the VA system is tough.
“Hospitalization is really bad. Medication, all of our pills and hospital visits. (There has been) real trouble with that,” said Young, an Army veteran.
Scott also repeated his call for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign and said he can't understand why state officials were barred from the VA in the first place.
“The VA facilities … they've got great employees,” Scott said. “The problem they have is with leadership, and they should be saying, 'Gosh, come in, Florida Health Care Administration. Come in, help us and show us how you do it in other facilities.' Instead, they're turning us away. That doesn't make any sense.”