At a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, senior
Democrats joined Republicans in demanding stronger action to fix
problems after officials at VA medical facilities in Phoenix were
accused of covering up long wait times for patients, including 40
who died while awaiting care.
"The standard practice at the VA seems to be to hide the truth in
order to look good. That has got to change once and for all,"
Democratic Senator Patty Murray told Shinseki.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, another Democrat, said there was "solid
evidence of wrongdoing within the VA system," and added that perhaps
the FBI should be brought into the probe.
Shinseki told the lawmakers that he was "mad as hell" about
allegations of schemes to mask waiting times for care at VA
facilities, but repeatedly said that VA would wait for its inspector
general to complete its investigation before acting on the Phoenix
The VA has put three senior officials in Phoenix on administrative
leave after doctors there said they were ordered to hold veterans'
names for months on a secret waiting list until a spot opened up on
an official list that met the agency's two-week waiting time goals.
"Whatever comes out of this, whatever is substantiated, we will take
action," Shinseki said after the hearing. He said that a nationwide
audit of appointment and scheduling practices at all VA hospitals
and clinics would deal with the problems.
In a sign the White House is growing concerned about the political
fallout from the VA controversy, President Barack Obama on Wednesday
directed a top aide, White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors,
to lead a review of the problems at the VA.
As Shinseki appeared on Capitol Hill, lawmakers expressed growing
frustration with the performance of the retired four-star general.
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"After Secretary Shinseki's out-of-touch performance today, it's no
wonder President Obama felt compelled to assign someone from the
White House to help clean up the mess at the department," said
Representative Jeff Miller, a Republican who chairs the House
Veterans Affairs committee.
Miller added that he did not believe the VA audit would yield useful
or accurate results.
Allegations have been reported about similar cover-up schemes at VA
medical facilities in at least seven other cities. The agency runs
the largest U.S. healthcare group, overseeing some 1,700 hospitals,
clinics, nursing homes and other facilities.
Asked if "cooking the books" was a widespread practice, Shinseki
said: "I'm not aware, other than a number of isolated cases, where
there is evidence of that."
Veterans' advocates said they will insist on results.
"We want a proactive secretary, not a reactive one," Tom Tarantino,
policy director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America,
(Additional reporting by David Alexander and Susan Heavey; Editing
by Bill Trott, Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)
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