VA expands probe of Phoenix deaths

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has expanded its investigation of a VA hospital in Phoenix where reports say as many as 40 veterans died after waiting too long for appointments.

A team of clinical experts was dispatched to Phoenix last week to “review appointment-scheduling procedures at that facility and the existence of any delays in care,” a VA spokesman said in a statement Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal

In January, the VA inspector general’s office launched a probe into several complaints it received over operations at the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona. 

A recently retired top VA doctor claims the hospital created a secret waiting list for between 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans. He calls the official waiting list to see a doctor a sham. 

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Reports say as many as 40 veterans on the secret list have died.

At an April 9 House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin said his office expanded the inquiry, Office of the Inspector General spokeswoman Catherine Gromek told the WSJ.

Internal emails the VA inspector general provided to the committee show a VA employee complained to a superior that veterans were being forced to wait about six weeks on a secret waiting list before receiving an actual appointment. 

"Sure, when their appointment is created, it's [sic] can be 14 days out, but we're making them wait 6-20 weeks to create that appointment," said the employee email, dated July 3, 2013, the WSJ reports. "That is unethical and a disservice to our Veterans."

On Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced he would hold a hearing to examine the allegations once the inspector general’s report is complete.

Earlier in the day, a number of senators and House lawmakers expressed outrage over the reports. 

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) all demanded Congress investigate the claims.  

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