Moran unsatisfied with Shinseki testimony

 

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the first senator to call for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation after allegations surfaced of secret wait lists and delays at some VA clinics, said he was not satisfied with the secretary's testimony Thursday on Capitol Hill. 

"I asked more than a week ago for Secretary Shinseki to offer his resignation and for President Obama to accept it, and nothing I heard today causes me to have any doubt about the rightness of the course," he told The Hill after the hearing. "I still think that is necessary."  

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Shinseki testified in front of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Thursday, which focused largely on the recent allegations that a hidden wait list led to 40 veteran deaths in Phoenix, and that appointment books were manipulated to hide long appointment wait times in Fort Collins, Colo. 

Shinseki has ordered VA inspector general investigations into the allegations and is issuing a nationwide audit of scheduling practices at VA clinics. However, Moran said it wasn't good enough. 

"What we need is action, not another study," Moran said. 

"What we've learned today is that the secretary has had access to dozens of IG reports, GAO reports, congressional inquiries, input from the [Veterans of Foreign Wars], American Legion, and really indicated in his testimony that he didn't know much about the content that was in those reports, so I didn't hear anything today that would suggest one more report is going to helpful," he said. 

During the hearing, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) asked whether Shinseki was aware of an April 26, 2010, memo by William Schoenhard, former deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management, sent to all 21 VA service regions titled "Inappropriate Scheduling Practices." 

"Paragraph two begins, "It has come to my attention that in order to improve scores on assorted access measures, certain facilities have adopted the use of inappropriate scheduling practices, sometimes referred to as gaming strategies," Isakson said. 

Isakson said a listing of inappropriate scheduling practices was attached to the memo, which also said "Please be cautioned that since 2008, additional new or modified gaming strategies may have emerged, so do not consider this list a full description of all current possibilities of inappropriate scheduling practices that need to be addressed. These practices will not be tolerated."

Shinseki said he was not aware of the memo, but VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel said he was familiar with it. 

"We have worked very hard, Senator Isakson, to root out these inappropriate uses of the scheduling system and these abuses," Petzel said. "We have been working continuously to try and identify where those sites are and what we need to do to prevent that from happening. It's absolutely inexcusable. The schedulers' responsibility is to be sure that that program is administered with integrity." 

"The individuals are, as you mentioned, held accountable. I can't give you an example specifically, but if someone were found to be manipulating inappropriately the scheduling system, they would be disciplined," said Petzel. 

However, he then added, "I don't know whether anybody was specifically disciplined around that issue."

"It was good to hear the secretary express concern, but what was lacking was specifics on action," said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino. "He could take appropriate action towards employees who have been found to have been cooking the books." 

"Veterans out there are losing faith in the system, and they need to see the secretary has his hand on the wheel and is going to correct these problems," he said.