[May 29, 2014]By David Lawder, Roberta Rampton and Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Calls for U.S.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign grew louder on
Wednesday as the agency's inspector general confirmed "systemic" and
widespread VA scheduling abuses to cover up long wait times for
The Department of Veterans Affairs' internal watchdog is probing
manipulation of appointment data at 42 VA medical centers, up from
26 last week, it said in an interim report on allegations of secret
The office said it has confirmed that "inappropriate scheduling
practices are systemic" throughout the Veterans Health
The report confirmed allegations that staff at VA medical facilities
in Phoenix significantly understated months-long wait times for
healthcare appointments for veterans. It linked these actions to
performance appraisals, bonus awards and salary increases for VA
executives. The findings prompted some Republicans and Democrats who
had withheld judgment on Shinseki to call for his immediate
"If Secretary Shinseki does not step down voluntarily, then I call
on the president of the United States to relieve him of his duties,"
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona told a news conference in
The scolding continued during a House Veterans Affairs Committee
hearing on Wednesday night where three VA officials were asked to
testify on the alleged existence and destruction of a secret wait
list identified by whistleblowers in Phoenix.
Dr. Thomas Lynch, the agency's assistant deputy under secretary for
health for clinical operations, said the waiting list was in fact an
“interim work product” meant to hold names of veterans whose
appointments had been canceled. Lynch said that the list was
properly destroyed after the patients were rescheduled to avoid
keeping unnecessary information on patients.
His answer did not satisfy members of the committee, including
Chairman Jeff Miller who has called for Shinseki's resignation and
others who chastised the officials for being blind to the agency's
“How you can stand in a mirror and look at yourself...and not throw
up knowing that you’ve got people out there?” Congressman Phil Roe
asked Lynch. “They’re desperate to get in.”
Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general, has headed the VA since
early 2009. The inspector general said it has filed 18 reports on VA
patient scheduling deficiencies since 2005.In Phoenix, the inspector
general said it identified 1,700 veterans who were waiting for a
primary care appointment but who did not appear on the agency's
electronic waiting list.
The inspector general said a sample of 226 veterans waited on
average 115 days for their first primary care appointment at
Phoenix-area clinics, far longer than the 26-day average reported by
the Phoenix VA and the department's 14-day goal.
But the Inspector General's Office said it needed more information
to determine whether the appointment delays resulted in delayed
diagnosis or treatment, or any deaths. VA doctors in Phoenix have
said some 40 veterans had died while waiting for care.
FINDINGS "TROUBLING," "REPREHENSIBLE"
President Barack Obama "found the findings extremely troubling,"
White House spokeswoman Jessica Santillo said, adding that the VA
must take immediate steps to contact veterans waiting for care. Last
week Obama said Shinseki's job could be on the line depending on the
Shinseki, in a statement, called the findings "reprehensible" and
directed the Phoenix facility to "immediately triage" the veterans
to get them care.
Shinseki is conducting his own review of scheduling practices at VA
health care facilities nationwide, and was expected to deliver
preliminary results from that effort to Obama this week.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell and Patricia
Zengerle in Washington, and David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by
Matthew Lewis, Richard Chang and Ken Wills)