Another day, another development on the Veterans Affairs Department wait-list scandal.
FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the bureau’s Phoenix office has opened an investigation. The FBI is looking into allegations that VA staffers at its Phoenix facility lied about veterans’ wait times for medical care so they could receive a bonus.
“We will follow wherever the facts take us. The Phoenix office is where we opened it, because that was the primary locus of the original allegations. We are working with the VA IG,” Comey said, responding to questions on if the FBI will expand its investigation. Multiple resports have found that the manipulation of wait time data at VA facilities is a systemic, nationwide issue.
The decision comes after Richard Griffin, the VA’s acting inspector general, told members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that it was investigating 69 VA facilities — not including Phoenix — for allegations including criminal wrongdoing.
Griffin added that his office is working with DOJ, but it remains to be seen whether the Justice Department thinks that altering the wait times for veterans to receive care rises to the level of a criminal prosecution.
“Once someone loses his job or gets criminally charged for doing this, it will no longer be a game. And that will be the shot heard around the system,” he said.
Bad news for the VA has been piling up. An internal audit released Monday found that approximately 57,000 veterans had been waiting 90 days or more for an appointment, and that more than 63,000 veterans enrolled in VA care who requested an appointment never got one. That follows an interim report last month, which found that 1,700 veterans were kept off waiting lists at the VA’s Phoenix facility. The report led to Eric Shinseki’s resignation as VA secretary.
Lawmakers from both parties have increasingly called for a criminal investigation into whether VA officials potentially committed fraud by lying about wait times so they could meet performance measures that would — in turn — get them a bonus.
“When you’ve gone out there and on purpose mislead, knowing that you would get a financial bonus if you did that — which is exactly what’s happened — is that fraud? I think that is,” Republican Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee said.
Philip Matkovsky, assistant deputy undersecretary for health for administrative operations, admitted Monday evening that “tying rewards and incentives “¦ to an activity is a mistake.”
Since the start of the scandal, the VA has suspended a requirement that veterans receive an appointment within 14 days of making a request, with critics arguing that — while well-intentioned — it was unrealistic.
The FBI was unable to immediately respond to request for comment.
What We're Following See More »
When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage.
The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."
"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."
Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."
"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.