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Watchdog: Phoenix veterans waited 115 days for care [UPDATE]

Over 1,700 veterans were kept off official wait lists, the VA inspector general found in an interim report.

By
Gabrielle Levy
Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, testifies during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the state of veteran's health care, in Washington, D.C. on May 15, 2014. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, testifies during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the state of veteran's health care, in Washington, D.C. on May 15, 2014. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- An inspector general's report confirmed allegations that a Phoenix VA hospital had masked the length of patient wait times, but did not examine claims that the extended waits had led to patient deaths.

Official data kept by the local VA showed a sampling of 226 patients who waited just 24 days, on average, for their appointments. But the investigators found they had instead been forced to wait an average of 115 days.

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The interim report, released Wednesday, said 1,700 veterans using the hospital were kept on an unofficial wait list, while their wait time was not counted in official documentation.

"As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment," the report says. "A direct consequence of not appropriately placing veterans on [electronic wait lists] is that the Phoenix HCS leadership significantly understated the time new patients waited for their primary care appointment in their FY 2013 performance appraisal accomplishments, which is one of the factors considered for awards and salary increases."

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Significantly, the report did not tackle the most damning of allegations -- that more than 40 veterans died while waiting for their appointments -- because of the quick nature of their examination.

"The assessments needed to draw any conclusions require analysis of VA and non-VA medical records, death certificates and autopsy results," the report says. "We have made requests to appropriate state agencies and have issued subpoenas to obtain non-VA medical records. All of these records will require detailed review by our clinical teams."

While a more substantive report will eventually be released, the scandal that erupted on the heels of the allegations has already begun to have political ramifications. Indeed, the first significant attack ad citing the scandal, produced by Crossroads GPS, took aim at Alaska Democrat Sen. Mark Begich in an effort to unseat him in a state boasting a large veteran population.

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Update:

Shinseki responded to the findings in the report, calling them "reprehensible" and directing the Phoenix VA hospital to "immediately triage each of the 1,700 Veterans identified by the OIG to bring them timely care."

"We will aggressively and fully implement the remaining OIG recommendations to ensure that we contact every single Veteran identified by the OIG," Shinseki said.

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