Insight into the allegations of falsified wait times at the nation's VA hospitals, which one former doctor claims resulted in the deaths of 40 veterans in Phoenix, is still weeks away from being made public.
The US Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing this morning to get the latest on the issue of wait times from Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel. Shinseki said the preliminary results of the VA's own audit of wait times won't be ready for perhaps another three weeks.
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The independent report from the VA's Office of the Inspector General, which is looking into the allegations of the veterans' deaths in Phoenix, has no known timetable for completion, Shinseki said.
Senator John McCain read a statement to the committee, blasting the Obama Administration for its response:
"It has been more than a month since allegations that some 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA were first made public. To date, the Obama Administration has failed to respond in an effective manner. This has created in our veterans' community a crisis of confidence toward the VA - the very agency that was established to care for them."
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, suggested that Shinseki ask the FBI to get involved in the investigation, as these allegations of falsified wait times could amount to criminal falsification of documents and forgery.
Several senators on the committee pointed out to cases across the country of VA employees manipulating the wait-time systems, so on paper, it looks like the veteran received care quicker than they actually did. Some of these instances occurred several years ago -- well before the allegations surfaced in Phoenix.
Shinseki insisted that the VA has not been aware of any pattern of these wait times manipulated, referring to them as "a number of isolated cases."
The audit the VA is doing of all its major facilities is supposed to determine if gaming wait-times is really a nationwide trend among VA employees.
Until then, Shinseki didn't sound eager to replace the VA health care system's management team, as suggested by one senator.
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"I don't want to get ahead of myself, and I don't want to get ahead of the OIG," Shinseki said. "I want to see results."
Again, there's no telling how long everyone will have to wait for the OIG report.
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