Senators demand probe of VA deaths

 

Republican senators on Thursday called for an immediate investigation into reports that 40 U.S. veterans died while waiting for appointments in the veterans’ healthcare system in Phoenix.

That state’s senators, John McCain (R) and Jeff Flake (R), wrote a letter to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee calling on its members to investigate the reports. [READ THE LETTER HERE.] McCain also wrote a separate letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki requesting more information about the allegations.

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“I am appalled by the number of veterans who stated to my office that the VA was just 'waiting' or 'hoping' that they would die and be one less burden on the system. These increasing individual delays clearly illustrate systemic problems with how effectively the VA is providing care to our veterans,” McCain said.  

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, announced on Thursday that his panel will hold a hearing to examine the allegations. 

The senator responded to the letter he received from McCain and Flake, and said he shares their concerns. 

"I am troubled when I hear that any veteran may have received substandard service from VA. We, as a nation, have a commitment to provide timely, quality health care to veterans, and I am determined to assist VA in meeting this responsibility," Sanders said in his response. 

Sanders said he urges the inspector general to expedite the already pending investigation into these reports. 

"I have urged them to move their investigation forward as quickly as possible," he added. 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) also called for a congressional investigation into the allegations.

“Congress should conduct emergency hearings to get the information necessary to fully root out these problems and President Obama should immediately designate an official responsible for implementing rapid changes,” Cornyn said in a statement. 

The senators are referring to multiple reports, including one by CNN Thursday morning, that have discovered many of the veterans who died were placed on a secret waiting list for the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System.  

These reports are “heartbreaking and infuriating,” Cornyn said.

Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix created a secret waiting list in an effort to hide between 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans who were forced to wait months to see a doctor, CNN reported. 

A recently retired top VA doctor and other sources told CNN about the practice, which it said top management was aware of.  

Dr. Sam Foote retired recently after working at the VA system in Phoenix for 24 years, and he told CNN the system works off of two lists to manage patient appointments.  

One is the official list that’s shared with VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., but Foote called the list a sham. 

The real list is not shared with outsiders, Foote said, and includes veterans who have to wait for appointments for more than a year. 

VA officials have previously acknowledged wait times are a problem for veterans around the country. Among other major issues, the VA has also been working to fix its backlog of veterans waiting for disability benefits. 

Cornyn says the latest report from Phoenix shows the entire VA system should be revamped to "eliminate waste and abuse" and updated. 

“Our heroes deserve nothing less,” he said. 

Updated at 2:34 p.m.