Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake are requesting that the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee investigate claims that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA healthcare system.
Florida Congressman Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, has claimed it appears that Phoenix VA hospital officials were manipulating a scheduling system to make it seem wait times were not as long as they truly were.
Earlier this month, the Arizona Republic published explosive allegations about mismanagement of the VA hospital made by a former doctor there.
That doctor has claimed that the 40 vets died while on waiting lists to see doctors or specialists.
Amid these allegations, New Times reported that a veteran had committed suicide in the parking lot of the Phoenix VA hospital, although we don't know the specifics of his treatment. The Phoenix VA director said in an e-mail to employees that the veteran didn't seek treatment that day.
Six months before that, another Phoenix vet committed suicide, and his family released his suicide note, which said the government gave him "no help" for the injuries he suffered in combat, and that he was unable to receive immediate medical care.
As for the latest allegations surrounding delays in care, McCain and Flake have asked the Senate committee for an investigation and a hearing.
Additionally, McCain's office released a letter he wrote to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, asking for more information about the allegations. McCain has tried to deal with the VA's backlog problem before, but McCain says it certainly looks like it's just getting worse:
"As a result, I have dedicated two of my staffer in Phoenix and a staffer in my DC office to handle the problems with the VA system in Maricopa County, sending inquiries for, and otherwise helping, veterans wherever possible to schedule appointments critical to their health, as well as conducting oversight of the VA generally. I am appalled by the number of veterans who stated to my office that the VA was just "waiting" or "hoping" that they would die and be one less burden on the system. These increasing individual delays clearly illustrate systemic problems with how effectively the VA is providing care to our veterans."
McCain also listed out nine questions he'd like answers for from the VA head, which address pretty much all of the major allegations:
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1. Did, as was recently reported, at least forty veterans die while waiting unreasonably for the delivery of medical care by PVAHCS? If so, to what extent were those delays a causal factor in their deaths? What does the nation-wide data in this regard show?
2. Does PVAHCS keep multiple lists of veterans awaiting care? If so, what is the purpose of keeping multiple lists? Is this practice intended to obscure how long veterans have been awaiting care?
3. What is the actual average wait time for PVAHCS patients? Have any previously reported average wait times been based on the alleged deceptive unofficial list system?
4. To what extent have these multiple waiting lists obscured actual waiting times?
5. What mechanism is in place to guarantee a veteran is placed on the EWL as soon as he/she requests an appointment?
6. PVAHCS reportedly paid out bonuses to VA officials for reducing wait times, even though those reductions only occurred by manipulating wait lists. How many officials received bonuses by reducing wait times through the waitlists manipulation? What did each official receive as a bonus? What was PVAHCS's aggregate spending on such bonuses?
7. According to a recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, no Phoenix patient deaths in recent years have resulted in "adverse disclosures" to family members. Those disclosures are required when medical negligence or mistakes contribute to a patient's death. Given that as many as 40 deaths have allegedly resulted from delays in treatment due to the multiple waiting list issue, why were no "adverse disclosures" made regarding those reported patient deaths? Will "adverse disclosures" be issued? If not, why not?
8. What is the ratio of doctors to patients in the Phoenix VA Health Care System? Has that ratio has an adverse impact on patient waiting times?
9. Has an OIG team or other VA oversight body already addressed a waiting list problem at PVAHCS and what changes, if any, were recommended? If recommendations were made, what if anything did PVAHCS due to implement these recommendations? If not, why not?
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