Alleged VA secret wait list cover-up grows larger

As the Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general's investigation delves deeper into the alleged wait time cover-up within VA hospitals, the scandal continues to grow to even more facilities and veteran groups across the country and government officials want answers.

In addition to the Phoenix and San Antonio hospitals, a whistleblower inside an Albuquerque, New Mexico VA hospital told the Daily Beast that the facility also kept a secret wait list to hide delays for veterans seeking medical care. The hospital is now destroying records to cover up its tracks, the news outlet reported. Although there's no evidence yet, the doctor who works at the facility said there is an eight-month wait for patients to get ultrasounds on their hearts, and some patients died before they got their studies, according to the Daily Beast.

On Sunday, the Dayton Daily News reported the VA paid out $36.4 million to settle claims that used the words "delay in treatment" 167 times since 2001.

The VA system consists of more than 1,700 hospitals and clinics that handle about 80 million outpatient visits a year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The suspected delays in care affect countless patients throughout the country. The Los Angeles Times compiled a series of vignettes to tell some of their stories, including Walter Burkhartsmeier, a retired Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. Burkhartsmeier started feeling shooting pain in his arm in 2011, and between a delayed test, a broken MRI machine and doctors who went on leave, it took until summer 2013 for the veteran to find out he had a trapped nerve and osteoblast rubbing against his spinal cord, the Times reported.

A retired Department of Veterans Affairs doctor has alleged that a VA Medical Center in Texas made a practice of asking doctors to change the requested date for imaging exams in order to hide backlogs for these tests, FierceMedicalImaging reported.

Robert Petzel, undersecretary for the VA, resigned Friday amid calls from veterans groups for top officials to step down, although he already planned to retire later this year, according to the Washington Times. "There may indeed be serious doubts about Dr. Petzel's leadership as it relates to recent allegations of manipulating wait times for VA healthcare appointments, but his early departure does nothing to solve those concerns," Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement. "Without real action from the VA, this token resignation just weeks before it was already scheduled to happen does nothing to rebuild faith in VA healthcare."

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said President Barack Obama is "madder than hell" about the alleged cover-up "and he will continue to press, as it relates to this question of timely access to care until it is fixed," Bloomberg reported.

To learn more:
- here's the Washington Times article
- read the Daily News story (subscription required)
- check out the Daily Beast article
- here's the Los Angeles Times vignettes and article
- read the Bloomberg story