New Revelations Blame Veteran Deaths on Secret VA Waiting Lists

Posted by Vets National Advocates on April 24, 2014 in VA Hospitals

Reports indicate that the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Phoenix has been forcing sick veterans to languish on secret waiting lists for months before receiving treatment.

According to documents and interviews obtained by CNN, VA whistleblowers allege that forty veterans have died while waiting on these secret lists.  

At least 26 VA facilities nationwide are now being investigated after these reports emerged. The VA Hospital in Phoenix faces some of the most egregious accusations.

Several whistleblowers came forward to accuse the Phoenix VA of hiding a large backlog of patients waiting to be seen by creating two distinct lists: One to be shown to overseers in Washington, and one which actually determined who was seen.

Secret Waiting Lists

Pursuant to these documents, when a veteran would come to the Phoenix VA Hospital seeking treatment, the VAs employees would make him or her an appointment on their computer system. Rather than saving the appointment, the scheduler would print out a screenshot of the veterans information, but would not save it in the system. This screenshot would be used to make a secret, physical list without leaving an electronic record.  

The veteran might stay on the secret list for months or even years waiting for an appointment. Once an appointment was made, his or her information was re-entered into the electronic system and saved, making it appear as if the veteran had only waited a few days for an appointment. This electronic list was then submitted to the federal VA system to show compliance with wait times. Whistleblowers estimated that 1,400 to 1,600 veterans are on these secret lists.

CNN also obtained email communications which showed that the Phoenix VAs top hospital management, including Director Sharon Helman, were aware of and encouraged this practice to VA employees.

Washington Investigates

The White House has sent a top aide to Phoenix to analyze the situation. The federal government has ordered the Phoenix VA to freeze and preserve all official records for review, though VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has already acknowledged that some notes and records have been destroyed.

Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the VA Management Accountability Act, which will hopefully curb some of these abuses. It is yet to be seen whether or not the Senate will also pass this act.

Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman was placed on leave after these allegations surfaced. She has also been ordered to repay nearly $10,000 in bonuses she received from the government for keeping veteran wait times low.

It remains to be seen how these accusations will affect veterans health care in the near future or in the long term. One thing is for certain, however: Our veterans deserve better.

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