The survey revealed that a scandal over cover-ups of long wait
times at VA clinics, during which some veterans are said to have
died, was broader and deeper than initially thought, prompting a new
round of recriminations from lawmakers and veterans groups.
The agency said staff at 76 percent of facilities surveyed reported
that they were instructed to misrepresent appointment data at least
The VA said it found that in mid-May, 57,436 veterans were waiting
for appointments that could not be scheduled within 90 days, while
about 43,000 had appointments more than 90 days in the future.
Over the past 10 years, 63,869 new enrollees in the VA healthcare
system had requested appointments that were never scheduled, the VA
The agency said it was working to contact all of those people to try
to expedite their care. With more than 1,700 clinics, hospitals and
other facilities serving 8.9 million veterans, the VA operates the
largest U.S. healthcare system.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed outrage at the findings, which
deepen the political problems the controversy presents to President
Barack Obama and fellow Democrats as they try to keep control of the
U.S. Senate in November elections.
"The results of the VA’s report are appalling and disturbing," said
Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat who is in a tight re-election contest
in North Carolina, a state that is home to many military retirees.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner called the findings "a
national disgrace" and said the House of Representatives would pass
a measure this week to let veterans seek private care at VA expense
if they had to wait over 30 days for an appointment.
The VA's acting inspector general, Richard Griffin, said he was
discussing evidence of possible criminal activity in the scandal
with the Justice Department. "We have found some indications of some
supervisors directing some of the methodologies to change the
(appointment) times ... Whether or not, in the opinion of the
Department of Justice, they rise to the level of criminal
prosecution, is still to be determined in most instances," Griffin
[to top of second column]
He spoke during a Monday evening hearing held by the House of
Representatives' Veterans Affairs Committee.
"I agree," Griffin said, in reply to a question by Representative
Phil Roe if it was fraudulent for officials to claim bonuses by
Criminal investigators on his staff were probing 69 facilities in
addition to Phoenix Arizona -- where the waiting times scandal
emerged earlier this spring -- looking for who may have given orders
to manipulate data, he added.
The VA said it was abandoning a two-week scheduling goal for
appointments after finding it was "not attainable," and it suspended
bonus awards for the 2014 fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The agency also said it would take emergency steps to rush medical
care to veterans, including hiring temporary staff, keeping clinics
open later, sending more patients to private care providers and
bringing in mobile medical units to some locations. It will freeze
hiring at headquarters offices. Last week, VA acting Secretary Sloan
Gibson said that at least 18 Arizona veterans had died while waiting
An official with watchdog agency the Government Accountability
Office, said on Monday a GAO review had identified one veteran who
died this year before obtaining needed care.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Emily Stephenson; Additional
reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Mohammad
Zargham, Leslie Adler and Clarence Fernandez)
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