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Most Americans blame VA officials, not Obama, for scandal: poll

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[June 06, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than half of Americans think Department of Veterans Affairs health officials deserve the most blame for long, underreported patient wait times that may have led to some veterans' deaths, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday.

Only 12 percent of those polled said President Barack Obama deserves the blame, indicating that the revelations so far have not had the broad political fallout some experts anticipated.

"What our data indicates ... is that people really by and large see this as more of a problem generated by local misbehavior and institutional misbehavior," said Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson.

"To the extent that it's going to have a political fallout, it will be as just another piece of information that feeds into Obama as this guy who isn't necessarily totally in control of what's happening in the federal government," Jackson said, adding that a larger share of those who blamed Obama identified as Republican.

Fifty-seven percent of participants said they blamed either VA health system administrators or the directors of the facilities where patient delays were hidden.

Just 10 percent of the 1,486 participants said former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned last week, bears the most responsibility for the scandal.

The poll comes after an internal audit found that nearly two-thirds of VA health facilities surveyed misrepresented wait times for veterans. In Phoenix, where the situation first came to light, at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments.

The agency's inspector general now is probing 42 separate VA healthcare locations, and lawmakers have scrambled to put together legislation to address the ongoing problems.

More than 80 percent of poll participants said the VA should let more veterans seek private treatment if they face major delays. A bipartisan deal announced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would let veterans obtain private care if they live more than 40 miles (65 km) from a VA facility or face "long" waits.

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Sixty percent of respondents said the VA health system has been underfunded, and 65 percent said it has a history of mismanagement.

But poll participants shied away from calling for drastic change. Less than half said the department should be overhauled. And while some critics believe veterans affairs should be handed to the private sector, just 14 percent of poll respondents supported that option.

The Ipsos poll was conducted online from May 31 to June 4 and had a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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