You are probably hearing many things about the problems at VA medical centers. We are not surprised! This is becoming a huge issue, with reports of secret waiting lists, improper or lack of care, unsafe facilities, and more growing by the hour. We will try to keep you updated on the most important information. Here is what is known at this time.
On April 24, CNN reported that Dr. Samuel Foote, a physician who had just retired from the Phoenix VA hospital, told them of a secret or “unofficial” list of veterans waiting for appointments. This list was used to make it appear that the facility was complying with VA regulations that access to medical care be provided in a timely manner, namely 14-30 days. Veterans were placed on the “unofficial” list, sometimes for more than 3 months, and then moved over to the official one when they were within 2 weeks of receiving care.
As many as 40 deaths are being attributed to long waits for appointments and treatments. This is quite alarming considering that, as we discussed a few weeks ago, the VA recently reported that 23 disabled American veterans died of cancer because of delays in receiving treatment.
Shortly after CNN’s report, similar claims began to surface from other VA facilities around the nation. Federal investigators are currently looking into claims at the VA Hospital in Phoenix, the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago, the VA Medical Center at Fort Collins, and problems are being reported in at least 10 other states, including New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Missouri and Texas.
On May 1, Phoenix VA hospital Director Sharon Helman publicly denied the existence of such claims. Later that day, she and 2 other officials were placed on administrative leave by the VA. Since then, many of the administrators at other affected VA centers have also been suspended.
Also on May 1, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki was warned by Jeff Miller, the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, that a subpoena would be issued if the VA failed to explain why they took eight days to act on the request to preserve all documents related to the appointment setting process. The Secretary did respond on May 7, 2014 but he failed to address this issue.
On May 8, 2014, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted to subpoena any and all documents relating to the disappearance or destruction of an “unofficial list” of veterans waiting to receive medical care. The mounting pressure on Secretary Shinseki prompted him to create on-site reviews of VA health centers across the nation. He asked Congress to wait until the agency’s inspections were completed before taking any additional action. The VA’s review, however, could take 3-4 months.
Meanwhile, calls for the Secretary’s resignation are increasing, with several congressmen and many veterans’ organizations demanding it. Shinseki states, though, that he has no intention of resigning. On Friday, May 16, he did ask, however, for the resignation of Robert Petzel, the department’s undersecretary for health care, and Petzel stepped down that day. Jeff Miller mocked the announcement, as did many veterans’ organizations, since Petzel was scheduled to retire this year anyway.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn stated that Shinseki’s “reticence to hold fellow bureaucrats at the VA accountable is exactly why we need new leadership that is willing to take swift action to ensure we are living up to our promises to our nation’s heroes.”
These reports are disturbing, to say the least. We’ll keep you updated as the investigation continues.