Veterans Affairs’ top medical official said Tuesday he is “concerned” by reports of improper medical procedures tied to financial kickbacks at a department medical center in Kansas, but has seen no evidence yet the problem extended to other sites.
Last week, ProPublica reported that doctors at the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wichita for years received free dinners, sporting event tickets and digital devices from officials at Medtronic — a medical device maker — in exchange for a lucrative contract to provide equipment for vascular surgeries.
The report also details how physicians overused Medtronic devices during surgeries, benefitting the company but not necessarily improving patients’ health.
On Feb. 16, Kansas Republican Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall sent a letter to VA officials demanding more details on the procedures and asking for the department to “reach out to all veterans who had received care at the catheterization lab” between 2011 and 2018, when the procedures stopped.
In a meeting with reporters on Tuesday. VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said department leaders are investigating the matter.
“If there’s anything that leads to adverse clinical quality and safety outcomes for veterans, that needs our prompt attention and focus,” he said.
“Right now, a review is happening. And we will proceed with it as swiftly as we can … and we will be in touch with the veteran community once we have the results of that.”
Both the VA Inspector General’s Office and the department’s clinical event response team are looking into the allegations, which includes a review of the records of all veterans who visited the Kansas medical center’s vascular specialty office. Elnahal said that work began last year.
He also said the department has not determined whether any patients or families need to be contacted about the accusations yet, noting that officials are still trying to determine the scope of the problem. Elnahal said he does not believe any other sites were involved in similar relationships with Medtronic.
The Kansas medical center stopped performing the procedures in question five years ago, in part because of the rising costs of the equipment, officials said.
Medtronic officials told ProPublica that the allegations leveled against them in a lawsuit about the kickback scheme were false, but declined to answer additional questions.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.