By Kristina Wong - 05/19/14 11:09 AM EDT
A whistleblower is alleging that a Veterans Affairs clinic in Albuquerque, N.M., is destroying evidence of a secret waiting list for veterans seeking care.
“Right now ... there is an eight-month waiting list for patients to get ultrasounds of their hearts. Some patients have died before they got their studies. It is unknown why they died, some for cardiac reasons, some for other reasons," the doctor said.
Among the veterans on the waiting list were veterans with serious heart conditions, gangrene and even brain tumors, the doctor alleged.
The report also said that veterans with heart problems are waiting an average of four months to see a cardiologist at the Albuquerque clinic.
The whistleblower said at any given time, only three of eight physicians in the cardiology department are in the clinic, and they each see fewer than two per day — a pace far slower than at private practices.
Ozzie Garza, director of the VA Regional Office of Public Affairs told The Daily Beast, "We are not familiar with the allegations but will call immediately for an external review as we take all allegations seriously."
Manipulating VA patient wait list records has become a nationwide scandal since a CNN report last month that said 40 veterans had died after being put on secret waiting lists. Since then, there have been reports of alleged wait list manipulation at six other clinics.
Last week, the VA's inspector general said he did not find evidence yet that any patients at a Phoenix clinic had died as a result of the waiting lists, though the investigation is not yet complete.
Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalJudiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights Supreme Court wrestles with corruption law Lawmaker calls for probe into 'unusual' Amazon cruise deaths MORE (D-Conn.) said during a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing last week that manipulating the records is possibly a criminal act and is calling for possible involvement by the Justice Department and the FBI.
"We have more than allegations at this point — we have evidence, solid evidence, of wrongdoing within the VA system," Blumenthal said. "It's a pattern and a practice, apparently, of manipulating lists and gaming the system; in effect, cooking the books, creating false records, which is not just an impropriety or misconduct. It is potentially a criminal act."