Shinseki: Findings on waits at Phoenix VA 'reprehensible'

By: CNN
By: CNN

Washington, DC, (CNN) - Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered the VA facility in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday to immediately "triage" 1,700 veterans waiting to see a doctor.

The veterans were never scheduled for an appointment or placed on a wait list at the Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix and are at risk of being "lost or forgotten," according to preliminary findings by agency investigators looking into allegations of backlogs and fraud.

In a written statement, Shinseki described the initial findings by the agency's Office of Inspector General as "reprehensible."

An initial review has found "serious" problems at the Veterans Affairs medical facility in Phoenix, with patients at risk of being "forgotten or lost" in a maze of convoluted scheduling practices.

A preliminary report by the agency's inspector general documented multiple unofficial wait lists of veterans seeking care and 1,700 veterans not on any list but also waiting to be seen.

The report also found "numerous allegations" of "daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers."

More broadly, the report submitted to senior agency officials and to Congress also found that "inappropriate scheduling practices are systematic" throughout VA health services.

The report did not offer any conclusions on whether delays in scheduling in Phoenix affected care or whether problematic scheduling has been corrected at other facilities.

Overall, there are 26 VA medical centers under investigation.

The VA is under fire over allegations of alarming shortcomings at its medical facilities. The controversy, as CNN first reported, involves of delayed care with potential fatal consequences in possibly dozens of cases.

CNN has reported that in Phoenix, the VA used fraudulent record-keeping -- including an alleged secret list -- that covered up excessive waiting periods for veterans, some of whom died in the process.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that inspector general Richard Griffin's initial findings were terrible and said it was "about time" the Justice Department launched its own investigation.

He also said embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should probably resign, which the Cabinet officer has said he has no plans to do.

"I haven't said this before, but I think it's time for Gen. Shinseki to move on," McCain said.

There have been calls from other members of Congress for him to step down over the scandal, but McCain's voice on military matters carries enormous weight considering his experience as a combat veteran, a Vietnam prisoner of war, and his work in the Senate on related issues.

President Barack Obama said last week he needed more time to assemble the facts and promised accountability if problems were found. For now, he's sticking with Shinseki.

The VA has acknowledged 23 deaths nationwide due to delayed care. Griffin told a Senate committee in recent weeks that his investigation so far had found a possible 17 deaths of veterans waiting for care in Phoenix, but he added that there was no evidence that excessive waiting was the reason.

The report comes hours before a House committee hearing on the Phoenix VA issues.

Griffin recommended that Shinseki "take immediate action" to "review and provide appropriate health care" to the 1,700 veterans identified in Phoenix as not being on a wait list.

It also recommended that he initiate a nationwide review of waiting lists "to ensure that veterans are seen in an appropriate time, given their clinical condition."


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