The PJ Tatler

Cornyn Calls for 'Emergency' Hearings to Investigate VA Waiting List

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Congress should launch an immediate, “emergency” investigation into a CNN report showing veterans dying on secret VA wait lists.

CNN reported yesterday that at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and many of those who lost their lives were put on a “secret” waiting list:

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.

…Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.

Dr. Sam Foote just retired after spending 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix. The veteran doctor told CNN in an exclusive interview that the Phoenix VA works off two lists for patient appointments:

There’s an “official” list that’s shared with officials in Washington and shows the VA has been providing timely appointments, which Foote calls a sham list. And then there’s the real list that’s hidden from outsiders, where wait times can last more than a year.

“The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules,” said Foote in Phoenix. “They developed the secret waiting list,” said Foote, a respected local physician.

The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 to 30 days, Foote said.

…Foote estimates right now the number of veterans waiting on the “secret list” to see a primary care physician is somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600.

Cornyn called the reports “both heartbreaking and infuriating.”

“Congress should conduct emergency hearings to get the information necessary to fully root out these problems and President Obama should immediately designate an official responsible for implementing rapid changes. This is not a time for more cover-ups, it is time for accountability,” the senator said.

“It is also time to consider how we revamp the entire VA system to eliminate waste and abuse, bring it into the 21st century, and ensure it is an agency that fulfills its most important function of caring for our veterans with expediency, accuracy, and above all, excellence. Our heroes deserve nothing less.”

Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake asked Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, for an investigation and hearings on the report. Neither Sanders nor Burr have publicly commented yet.

The two Republicans noted that their hometown paper, the Arizona Republic, first reported about the 40 deaths on April 10.

“This article was published after Chairman Miller of the House Veterans Affairs Committee testified during a hearing that he had evidence suggesting that PVAHCS officials manipulated schedules in order to make it appear that patients received appointments faster than they actually did. This raises concern that officials have been misusing the Electronic Waiting List system employed by all VA Health Centers and keeping a non-official list outside of standard VA procedures,” McCain and Flake wrote to the Senate committee.

“In fact, it has been suggested that PVAHCS staff may have used this non-official electronic list to queue veterans until an appointment became available within their 24-25 days waiting period, at which point veterans were transferred to the official waiting list despite the fact that the appointment request was made much earlier. One major consequence of the supposed two-list system is that veterans’ actual wait times could have been significantly longer than what is reported by Phoenix VA officials.”

They added that “regardless of whether these deaths were caused by mismanagement by PVAHCS officials or intentional manipulation, the allegations appear indicative of broader trends that we have observed regarding the VA’s apparent failure to provide quality healthcare to our veterans.”

“As you undoubtedly appreciate, VA must use its resources to address veterans’ concerns in an effective, efficient, and timely manner. American veterans deserve to have an agency that respects their sacrifice to this country by putting their needs first.”

McCain sent another letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki asking for numerous answers to questions about the report. “I cannot express how troubling these allegations are to me as a veteran and to the community of veterans whom the VA was established to serve,” the senator wrote.