Veterans Affairs officials and investigators have found that 35 veterans in the Phoenix area died while waiting for care.
However, there's been no confirmation that these veterans died because they didn't receive timely care.
The Phoenix VA health care system has been investigated by the VA's inspector general amid claims from a retired doctor there that 40 veterans died on a "secret" waiting list.
A few weeks ago, investigators with the inspector general's office told the U.S. Senate Committee and Veterans Affairs that it had received several lists of alleged veteran deaths, including a list of 17 veterans in Phoenix who have died.
"It's true that those veterans whose names are on the list have died," assistant inspector general Dr. John Daigh told the panel.
Acting inspector general Richard Griffin told the committee they're still looking at all kinds of patient records to see if there's a direct connection between the delay in care, and the veterans' deaths.
"We didn't conclude so far that the delay caused the death," Griffin said. "It's one thing to be on a waiting list, and it's another thing to conclude that as a result of being on a waiting list, that's the cause of death."
Indeed, the inspector general released an interim report on the investigation into claims that 40 veterans died while waiting for care, and the report simply stated they can't say at this time if there's a definitive connection.
In addition to those 17 vets, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told reporters in Phoenix yesterday that 18 veterans kept off the official waiting list had died.
The inspector general had identified 1,700 veterans who were not on the official waiting list, and were at risk of being "forgotten" in the VA system. VA officials were tasked with immediately contacting those 1,700 veterans, which led to the discovery that 18 of them had died.
Again, Gibson did not say the deaths were because of the delay in case. In fact, he said most of those 18 veterans had been seeking end-of-life care.
Gibson added that the VA will be releasing its own internal audit on wait times early next week.
Meanwhile, the inspector general is attempting to see if there's a link between delays in care and veterans' deaths. Despite identifying those 17 vets who did die, Griffin said a few weeks ago that the 17 veterans "does not represent the total number of veterans we're looking at," though he didn't say exactly how many cases they're looking at. He said there are multiple lists they're looking into.
Griffin said they expect to have that complete report done some time in August. He added that his office is working with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, meaning criminal charges for those who may have manipulated wait times or any other records aren't out of the question.
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