A preliminary report Wednesday from the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general confirmed that at least 1,700 veterans were kept off of waiting lists at the Phoenix Health Care System, leading more lawmakers on Capitol Hill to call for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down.
“While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at [the Phoenix] medical facility,” acting Inspector General Robert Griffin wrote in the new report.
And the issues there are not unique. “We are finding that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide,” he wrote.
Using a sample of 226 veterans at the Phoenix facilities, Griffin’s team found that veterans waited 115 days on average before receiving their first primary care appointment, far more than the 14 days recommended by the Veterans Affairs Department. Phoenix had reported its average wait was 24 days. Of those same veterans, 85 percent of them waited more than 14 days on average to receive care, while Phoenix officials reported that just 43 percent of veterans waited that long.
The Inspector General’s Office found that schedulers were pressured by their superiors to alter waiting times, which are factored into staff members’ bonuses and salary raises. In some cases, schedulers would change a veteran’s requested appointment date to the next date the facility had available, resulting in a zero-day wait time.
In addition to the waiting-list delays, Griffin said that his office received “numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers” at the Phoenix Health Care System.
In the wake of the report, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Miller, the top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services and House Veterans’ Affairs committees, both issued statements calling on Shinseki to resign. Shortly after, Sen. Mark Udall became the first Democrat in the Senate to join the call.
Several dozen members of Congress have already called for Shinseki’s resignation, though so far, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn are the only members of leadership to join them. President Obama has not asked for Shinseki to step down either, but left the door open during a speech last week. A senior administration official said that Shinseki’s continued tenure as head of the department remains up in the air, as the investigation continues.
Obama was briefed on the report Wednesday by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and found the report “extremely troubling,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “[Shinseki] has said that VA will fully and aggressively implement the recommendations of the IG. The President agrees with that action and reaffirms that the VA needs to do more to improve veterans’ access to care,” Carney said in a statement. “Our nation’s veterans have served our country with honor and courage and they deserve to know they will have the care and support they deserve.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether Obama supports Shinseki’s continued tenure as head of the department, even as the calls on the Hill grew louder.
The inspector general’s report did not include the results of the investigation into whether any of the waiting-list issues resulted in deaths, as has been reported by several media outlets. That will be included in the office’s final report which is due out in June.
In the interim, Griffin reported that his office has deployed “rapid response teams” that are visiting VA facilities without warning staff in order to investigate issues nationwide. So far, he wrote, they have visited or scheduled visits at 42 facilities across the country.
Griffin’s team also sent a series of recommendations to Shinseki, focusing in particular on getting the 1,700 veterans who have been waiting for care into a VA facility as quickly as possible.
This post was updated on Wednesday at 4 p.m. to include President Obama’s comments and additional calls for Shinseki’s resignation.
What We're Following See More »
As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."