VA scandal grows to 26 facilities

The investigation into allegations that a Phoenix Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital used a secret waitlist to cover up treatment delays now involves 26 facilities nationwide, officials at the Office of Inspector General at the VA Department told the Associated Press.

Since the allegations surfaced last month, the AP reports, the inspector general's office has received numerous complaints about falsified records and delayed care at VA facilities in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Florida. President Barack Obama yesterday called for a nationwide investigation into the allegations, promising to hold individuals accountable if the accusations of misconduct prove to be true.

VA policy calls for system hospitals to provide care within 14 to 30 days of a patient's request. But clinicians claim the facilities kept two lists--an official one that showed they were meeting the policy requirements and a secret one that covered up the fact that veterans were waiting months for treatment.

Whistleblowers at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in the Chicago area claim officials encouraged the use of the secret waitlist to collect bonuses for on-time treatment, Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix facility, collected a $9,000 bonus last year, according to the AP. She was placed on administrative leave earlier this month while the inspector general's office investigates the allegations.

Obama said yesterday that it's unclear whether the deaths of any of the veterans on the alleged waitlist are linked to treatment delays. However, he said preliminary reports indicate wait times involved patients with chronic conditions, not emergency services.

The scandal has led both Republican and Democratic lawmakers to call for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki--a retired four-star general who lost part of his right foot after tripping on a land mine when he was a soldier in Vietnam.

For now, Obama is standing behind him, and told reporters yesterday he wants to wait until the investigation is complete before holding individuals accountable for the VA problems.  Robert Petzel, undersecretary for the VA, resigned last week, a few months ahead of his planned retirement.

"I respect [Shinseki's] sacrifice, I respect what he did, but it's under his watch that we are in this situation," Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), said Wednesday, according to the New York Times.  "Mr. President, we need urgency!"

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) agreed, stating, "Somebody needs to be in charge at the White House, and somebody needs to start taking responsibility."

Meanwhile, last night the House voted 390-33 in favor of a bill that gives Shinseki more authority to fire or demote employees involved in the misconduct, the Times reports.

To learn more:
- read the AP story via The Christian Science Monitor
- here's the New York Times article