WASHINGTON – Republicans demanded accountability from top White House officials and even the president as more whistleblowers came forward Tuesday with troubling first-hand accounts of delays in treatment and rigged recordkeeping at Veterans Administration hospitals.
The problems allegedly have led to the deaths of an estimated 100 veterans nationwide.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, demanded Tuesday afternoon that Obama withdraw his nominee to replace outgoing Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel. Cornyn argued that Petzel’s replacement oversaw staff accused of committing the very abuses that prompted Petzel’s resignation.
“Instead of nominating a reformer from outside the VA system who can bring fresh leadership as the next Under Secretary for Health – a key position responsible for overseeing the VHA – you have appointed Dr. Jeffrey A. Murawsky, a career administrator whose own tenure at the VA raises serious concerns,” Cornyn wrote.
The senator said that from February 2010 through February 2012, Murawsky directly supervised Sharon Helman, the current director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, who has been “placed on administrative leave due to similar allegations of secret wait lists and resulting veteran deaths there.”
Since 2001, Murawsky has supervised one of the hospitals linked to the scandal. Murawsky is currently network director of the Veterans Integrated Service Network for the Great Lakes region, which includes Edward Hines Jr. VA hospital in Chicago.
The Associated Press reported May 15 that the hospital made secret lists to conceal long patient wait times for appointments. Prior to a promotion within the VA, Murawsky spent almost five years as a senior administrator at the hospital, from 2001 to 2006.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., called for the investigation into the alleged secret waiting lists to be expanded to include the Chicago hospital.
“The inspector general should immediately broaden its investigation to include Hines VA and deliver a swift and immediate report,” Kirk said.
As WND reported, the White House announced Tuesday it is dispatching one of President Obama’s top aides to investigate deaths allegedly connected to a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix. It’s part of the administration’s effort to contain growing outrage over delays in treatment and rigged recordkeeping at veterans hospitals.
Rob Nabors, White House deputy chief of staff, has been assigned to assist top VA officials in probing allegations of wrongdoing by staffers at the Phoenix facility and elsewhere. He will meet with Arizona hospital officials Thursday after meeting Wednesday with representatives of several veterans’ organizations in Washington, according to the White House.
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va today called on Obama to take responsibility for an alleged secret list that officials used to manipulate backlog data at the Veterans Administration, leading to extended wait periods for veterans seeking health care and causing at least 23 deaths.
“I will tell you, I am disturbed by statements out of the White House that say that the president heard about this in the news,” Cantor fumed. “It is time for our president to come forward and take responsibility for this and do the right thing by these veterans and begin to show that he actually cares about getting it straight.”
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R. Fla., alerted the president to trouble nearly a year ago.
In a letter dated May 21, 2013, Miller began:
Dear Mr. President: I am writing to bring to your attention an alarming pattern of serious and significant patient care issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs) across the country. Recent events at the Atlanta, Georgia, VAMC provide a perfect illustration of the management failures, deceptions, and lack of accountability permeating VA’s healthcare system. … I believe your direct involvement and leadership is required.
Senate appropriators moved legislation on Tuesday to address a scandal surrounding allegations the Department of Veterans Affairs used falsified data to hide delays in care for veterans. The Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the VA included language in the 2015 spending bill for the department suspending bonuses for department officials until an investigation into the wait list affair is completed. The bill also includes a $5 million increase for the VA inspector general to look into the matter.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the VA, declared the committee has “zero tolerance for any attempt to delay or deny care to veterans by concealing scheduling delays.”
“Doctoring the books to make a hospital look good cannot and will not be allowed to take precedence over doctoring the patients,” Johnson said, according to the Hill newspaper.
A retired four-star Army general, Shinseki – a former director of Honeywell and current member of the Council on Foreign Relations – has resisted calls to resign as head of the VA.
Referring to allegations the VA hospital in Phoenix may have used an elaborate scheme to cover up dozens of patient deaths because of long wait times, Shinseki said he has ordered a nationwide access review of all other facilities.
He said he has already received reports that compliance is under question at some of those facilities. He did not say which facilities or how many might not to be in compliance.
Asked if employees were cooking the books, Shinseki testified he was not aware of that, except in isolated cases. However, he said, there is reason to take a thorough look. Senators told Shinseki he had already ignored repeated warnings that his department was in trouble.
The Washington Examiner today posted a map of 24 VA facilities implicated in secret waiting lists and delayed treatment. On Monday, the VA hospital in Albuquerque joined the growing list of facilities accused of having secret waiting lists designed to disguise how long veterans have gone without treatment, and the conditions described there are appalling.
The Daily Beast cited a whistleblower who said veterans with serious heart conditions, gangrene and even brain tumors waited months for care at the Albuquerque VA hospital. The whistleblower, a doctor, claimed VA officials are destroying records to cover their tracks. He cited an eight-month waiting list for patients to get ultrasounds of their hearts. Some patients died before they got their studies.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the president learned of the alleged misconduct at the VA “through the reports” when news first broke. But a 2007 Iowa campaign speech and a 2013 letter from a Republican congressman shows otherwise.
In the speech, Obama condemns long wait times and poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“It’s not enough to lay a wreath on Memorial Day, or to make a speech on Veteran’s Day,” Obama said. “When a veteran is denied health care, we are all dishonored. When 400,000 veterans are stuck on a waiting list for claims, we need a new sense of urgency in this country. And when we’ve got young veterans of a misguided war in Iraq sleeping on the streets of our cities and towns, we need a change in Washington.”
As WND reported, Obama’s transition team in 2008 was briefed on the situation.
The latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows that just 21 percent of Americans think the federal government is doing a good job handling veterans benefits.