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Phoenix VA hospital missed care for 1,700 vets, report says

By Matthew Daly & Donna Cassata

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:06 p.m. HST, May 28, 2014

WASHINGTON >> About 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the official wait list at the troubled Phoenix veterans hospital, the Veterans Affairs watchdog said Wednesday in a scathing report that increases pressure on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

The investigation, initially focused on the Phoenix hospital, found systemic problems at the VA's sprawling system that provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans each year. The interim report confirmed allegations of excessive waiting time for care in Phoenix, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the wait list.

"While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility," Richard J. Griffin, the department's acting inspector general, wrote in the 35-page report. The report found that "inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout" the nationwide VA health care system.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall on Wednesday became the first Democratic senator to call for Shinseki to leave. "We need new leadership who will demand accountability to fix these problems," Udall said in a statement.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Arizona's two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, also called for Shinseki to step down. Miller also said Attorney General Eric Holder should launch a criminal investigation into the VA.

Miller said the report confirmed that "wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country."

Shinseki called the IG's findings "reprehensible to me, to this department and to veterans." He said he was directing the Phoenix VA to immediately address each of the 1,700 veterans waiting for appointments.

Griffin said his office has increased the number of VA health care facilities it is investigating to 42 nationwide, up from 26 known to be under investigation as of last week. He said investigators' next steps include determining whether names of veterans awaiting care were purposely omitted from electronic waiting lists and at whose direction and whether any deaths were related to delays in care.

He said investigators at some of the other 42 facilities "have identified instances of manipulation of VA data that distort the legitimacy of reported waiting times."

Justice Department officials have already been brought into cases where there is evidence of a criminal or civil violation, Griffin said.

Dr. Samuel Foote, a former clinic director for the VA in Phoenix who was the first to bring the allegations to light, said the findings were no surprise.

"I knew about all of this all along," Foote told The Associated Press in an interview. "The only thing I can say is you can't celebrate the fact that vets were being denied care."

Foote took issue with the finding by the inspector general that patients had, on average, waited 115 days for their first medical appointment.

"I don't think that number is correct. It was much longer," he said. "It seemed to us to be about six months."

Still, Foote said it is good that the VA finally appears to be addressing some long-standing problems.

"Everybody has been gaming the system for a long time," he said. "Phoenix just took it to another level. ... The magnitude of the problem nationwide is just so huge, so it's hard for most people to get a grasp on it."

The report Wednesday said 84 percent of a statistical sample of 226 veterans at the Phoenix hospital waited more than 14 days to get a primary care appointment. VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. A fourth of the 226 received some level of care during the interim, such as in the emergency room or at a walk-in clinic, the report said.

The report said investigators would not be able make any determination about whether long appointment waits resulted in patient deaths until after they analyze medical records, death certificates and autopsy results.

In a related matter, Griffin said investigators have received numerous allegations of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers at the Phoenix hospital. Investigators were assessing the validity of the complaints and their effect, if any, on patients' access to care, he said.


Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard and Pauline Jelinek in Washington, and Brian Skoloff in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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serious wrote:
I think our Hawaii VA hospital must be on that list since I got a call last week after 14 months on the "wait list". But having said that, the VA system was set up for service related medical problems and now it has turned into a free medical care for all veterans--it is not funded or equipped for that. The system is too redundant and multi levels of ???? Very similar to the Hawaiian government systems--how many committees or departments does it take to change a light bulb in a rest room?
on May 28,2014 | 11:53AM
etalavera wrote:
Socialized medicine at work. This shows where ObamaCare could end up.
on May 28,2014 | 11:59AM
HD36 wrote:
Put all the politicians in the same medical program.
on May 28,2014 | 05:17PM
Nevadan wrote:
Congress has the best medical care.
on May 28,2014 | 06:05PM
pcman wrote:
The inspection of the VA system will only get worse on Shinseki and the people who run the system. Corruption, fraud, waste and abuse is rampant in the system. Bullying and abuse of leadership were also rampant in the system. Every SES administrator, including Shinseki, should be required to return any bonus they received over the past 6 years. Every doctor who is not providing medical care should be required to return to medical practice in the VA system or be fired. That's a good start.
on May 28,2014 | 12:06PM
samidunn wrote:
"Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state." - Vladimir Lenin
on May 28,2014 | 01:04PM
HD36 wrote:
We need more government. Too many free thinkers in America.
on May 28,2014 | 05:24PM
cojef wrote:
It's been reported by other media that Shinseki offered to resign, but Obama refused. Simply, the acceptance is an admission that the Administration is rife with incompetence from the git go. From ACA debacle, to scandals with "fast and furious", the Benghazi deaths, IRS probe of "tea party" applications and Lois Lerner, plus immigration release of convicted felons and on and on.
on May 28,2014 | 02:16PM
Barefootie wrote:
yet you continue to spout off on the 'obvious' and offer no solutions, eh Cojef? Just like the GoP, you continue to highlight all the bad stuff that occurs, but do nothing to come up with solutions or talk about the good that has occurred...........
on May 28,2014 | 03:47PM
Anonymous wrote:
Only after Shinseki became head of the VA has my son started getting treatment for PTSD and qualifying for disability payments; and finally has been accepted into a treatment facility for traumatic brain injury. Up till then the VA pushed him aside just like all the other vets needing comprehensive treatment . I was afraid he would become another suicide statistic.
on May 28,2014 | 02:48PM
pseudo wrote:
Good for you for speaking up. Now how to get more vets with positive experiences to do the same and let the country know?
on May 28,2014 | 04:15PM
juke wrote:
give me a break.one person help.over 5ooo still waiting.wake up and stand up for our vets.
on May 28,2014 | 05:26PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
The gopher state of Arizona with John McCain and wuss governor did nothing for their vets? Nobody home in Arizona? Didn't Arizona vets write their congressman McCain?
on May 28,2014 | 07:58PM
alendo wrote:
My father got the care he needed only AFTER Shinseki got appointed to the VA. He never had to wait for an appointment longer than 30 days. I'm sure Shinseki was not aware of this cover-up.
on May 28,2014 | 03:42PM
juke wrote:
you dont have a clue
on May 28,2014 | 05:26PM
Nevadan wrote:
As wide-spread as this cover-up is, Shinseki had to know. It was his job to know. Obama also knew. Shinseki could not do anything without Obama's blessing. Big bucks and shakeup was necessary. Obama was more concerned about his rating and re-election.
on May 28,2014 | 06:15PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
So who's a good replacement candidate nevadan? Heart transplant Cheney? Oh wait he wasn't a vet. How about Rommey?
on May 28,2014 | 08:00PM
Barefootie wrote:
Instead of going after VA Secretary Eric Shinseki for what is occurring in the federal VA health system, they should be investigating the leading executives of each of the VA hospitals, as they are the ones directly in control of what is going bad with the Veterans Affairs hospitals! They are the ones breaking the rules and collecting illicit bonuses for 'scamming the VA healthcare system' and putting America's veteran's health in peril!
on May 28,2014 | 03:44PM
Anonymous wrote:
So much for the patients come first, so sad.
on May 28,2014 | 05:13PM
HD36 wrote:
Government has all the answers if you let them ask all the questions.
on May 28,2014 | 05:16PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Shinseki's got to go. It's really that simple. He didn't cause the problems but it has been 5 years on his watch.
on May 28,2014 | 06:46PM
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