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 »
Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."
President Obama commuted the sentences of another 98 drug offenders on Thursday. Most of the convicts were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs or possession with intent to distribute. Many of the sentences were commuted to expire next year, but some will run longer. Others are required to enroll in residential drug treatment as a condition of their release.
The Department of Justice announced today it's charged "61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement. An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities."
Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."