Staff at the Phoenix VA hospital doctored their records, keeping hundreds of veterans off the official waiting lists and ensuring some would never get to see a doctor for treatment, according to a preliminary audit released Wednesday that confirms some of the worst accusations in the burgeoning scandal.
Joining those calls were three Senate Democrats, who became the first to break with President Obama, who has steadfastly defended his VA chief.
The inspector general’s report said Phoenix VA officials kept 1,700 veterans off the official books, allowing the officials to lie about waiting times and making themselves eligible for bonuses. The scathing report also suggests that VA headquarters in Washington was aware as far back as 2010 of many of the schemes VA offices were using to doctor the books.
Top VA officials told Congress on Wednesday that they first thought the secret lists were part of an initiative to reschedule canceled appointments, and that they were destroyed because they contained sensitive information about patients.
None of the three witnesses was allowed to offer an opening statement at the evening hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and committee chairman, frequently cut off long-winded answers and asked Joan Mooney, assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs, whether she could give the committee an answer without looking at her notes.
He promised to prod the VA until the committee receives the documents requested as part of a subpoena issued this month.
“Until the VA understands that we are deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day,” he said.
Inspector general investigators said the wait list problems aren’t new. They have released 18 reports since 2005 examining the damage of lengthy wait times on patient care, the report said.
In the case of the Phoenix facility, investigators found at least 1,700 veterans who were not on the electronic waiting lists, meaning there was no accurate way to measure their wait times.
“These veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix [health care system’s] convoluted scheduling process,” the investigators said in their report. “As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment.”
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they were stunned by the revelations, and a number of politically vulnerable Democrats said Wednesday they had concluded it was time for Mr. Shinseki to be ousted.
Rep. Ron Barber and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, both Arizona Democrats, said they were stunned to learn that VA headquarters knew as far back as 2010 that some officers were cooking their books with scheduling techniques.