Federal prosecutors will weigh criminal charges related to the Department of Veteran Affairs' (VA) ongoing investigation into the nationwide secret waitlist scandal at VA medical facilities.
Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin told a House committee Monday night that the VA's Office of the Inspector General is now investigating 69 facilities for criminal, civil and administrative wrongdoing, Stars and Stripes reports. His testimony came hours after the VA released an internal audit that revealed more than 57,000 veterans wait months for care.
"I think it comes down to accountability of senior leadership out in these facilities," Griffin told the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "Once somebody loses their job or is criminally charged, that will be the shot heard around the system."
In many cases, Griffin said, VA staff would give veterans the first available appointment date, which could be six months in the future, but then officially mark the appointment as the desired date, even though the patient requested an earlier visit. Furthermore, he said that in some instances, staff would cancel an appointment two weeks before and reschedule it for the same date so it appeared that the VA facility was meeting its goal of a 14-day wait time.
He said the Inspector General and the Department of Justice are trying to determine whether criminal charges should be brought against supervisors who encouraged this practice, according to Stars and Stripes.
The audit report found that the 14-day goal is partly responsible for the system-wide scheduling programs and treatment delays at the VA. Last year the VA instituted the policy and used the goal to evaluate employee performance, providing those who met the goal with awards and bonuses. As a result of the audit findings Monday, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson removed the goal and award incentives.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 21 senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding that the Justice Department conduct a criminal investigation into the allegations.
"Evidence of secret waiting times, falsification of records, destruction of documents and other potential criminal wrongdoing has appalled and angered the nation, and imperiled trust and confidence in the Veterans Health Administration," they wrote.
The audit findings sparked outrage from lawmakers, veteran advocacy groups and veterans themselves. "We're angry," said Jerry Newberry, the assistant adjutant general of the Kansas City Veterans of Foreign Wars, during a meeting Monday night covered by Fox4kc."We're frustrated. We're not going to put up with it anymore."
Vietnam veteran Joe McDaniel, who has diabetes, hearing loss, neurological problems and suffers from post-traumatic stress distorder, said during the meeting that the earliest appointment the VA could give him was 120 days from now, which meant he couldn't re-fill his prescriptions.
"Because I can't get in to see a doctor, I feel like they pretty much are forgetting about us," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the audit results that thousands of veterans have to wait months for their first visit with a primary care doctor "a national disgrace," azcentral reports.
"The House will act this week on a common-sense bill that would allow any veteran forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment the option to receive private-sector care," Boehner said. "It's an important bill, and the president should call on the Senate to pass it immediately after the House acts."
Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, also expressed outrage. "This audit is absolutely infuriating, and underscores the depth of this scandal," he told azcentral. "Our vets demand action and answers."
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