Report: Colorado's VA hospitals got 2 and 3-star ratings out of 5 in internal VA reports

AURORA, Colo. – Colorado’s two Veterans Affairs medical centers received two and three stars out of five in a secret rating system the Department of Veterans Affairs has in place.

USA Today on Wednesday published the never-before-see star ratings Wednesday after obtaining the internal documents. Five stars were assigned to the best hospitals, while one star was given to the worst.

The documents show Denver’s VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System was given two stars and the Grand Junction VA Medical Center was given three stars in the most-recent reports available for both hospitals, from the fourth quarter of 2015.

Data from the second quarter of 2016 was released to USA Today for centers rated with either one or five stars, but centers that got two, three, or four-star reviews saw no new data released.

Many of the lowest-performing centers, according to the internal ratings, were centered in Texas and Tennessee; the Dallas, El Paso, Nashville, Memphis and Murfreesboro centers all received one-star ratings in the second quarter of 2016. The much-discussed Phoenix VA also received one star.

Most of the top-performing centers that received five stars were situated in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, according to the data.

USA Today says the ratings are determined by “dozens of factors” that include death and infection rates, wait times and complications suffered by patients that could have been avoided.

VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulking told the paper the rankings are considered an “internal improvement tool.”

“My concern is that veterans are going to see that their hospital is a 'one' in our star system, assume that’s bad quality and veterans that need care are not going to get care,” he told USA Today. “And they’re going to stay away from hospitals and that’s going to hurt people.”

The VA said 120 of 146 hospitals rated on the scale have shown improvement since July 2015, though Shulking declined to specify which hadn’t aside from the one-star Detroit VA.

Veterans Affairs has been closely scrutinized across the country because of wait times and patient deaths, among other things.

Colorado’s specifically have also come under fire over the past two years.

A September federal report found the department’s lack of oversight and “gross mismanagement” in Aurora added hundreds of millions in costs to the new hospital.

And just last month, a VA employee who blew the whistle to Congress that the department was using unauthorized wait lists for mental health care resigned after alleged retaliation.

A new billboard has gone up in Denver that says, “VA is Lying, Veterans are Dying.”

Last year, the Grand Junction center stopped performing several surgeries and procedures after two patients died over a nine-month period and several other patients suffered complications.

Shulkin told USA Today that veterans shouldn’t have to wait for care, and that the number of them waiting for more than a month for care has dropped from nearly 60,000 to 600 since he took over the department in July 2015.

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