In the fallout following allegations that dozens of veterans died while waiting to receive medical attention, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered face-to-face audits at health facilities operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki’s directive comes one day after he received a subpoena from the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs for records on document-shredding and the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs announced he is required to testify during hearings on May 15. Planned for the next few weeks, the health facility reviews will determine whether schedulers are following proper protocols and record keeping for veteran appointments, Army Times reported.
On April 23, CNN reported Dr. Sam Foote, a recently retired physician with the Phoenix Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care system, had provided documents revealing how VA leaders covered up lengthy wait times for veterans and in so doing contributed to at least 40 deaths. Foote, who worked for 24 years within the VA system in Phoenix, told the news agency that the VA office maintained two lists for patient appointments. The list shared with Washington showed veterans receiving timely appointments; a secret list, though, showed true wait times for appointments lasting more than a year. The American Legion’s fiscal 2014's second quarter figures easily substantiate such claims; some regional offices averaged more than 300 days when deciding disability claims for veterans.
Last week, Shinseki issued a statement to the press, saying, “We take these allegations very seriously ... We believe it is important to allow an independent, objective review to proceed.” At that time, he placed PVAHCS Director Sharon Helman, PVAHCS Associate Director Lance Robinson, and a third PVAHCS employee on administrative leave until further notice. Despite his action, veterans groups insisted on a more thorough investigation into delays in patient care and politicians responded.
“Shinseki did the right thing by placing three Phoenix administrators on leave,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Representative Jeff Miller, the Army Times reported. “But by no means does that common-sense step, which should have already been done weeks ago, take VA out of the hot seat.”
Earlier this week, other critics also asserted Shinseki’s move comes too late. In particular, the American Legion called for the resignation of Shinseki and two of his top deputies due to patterns of “poor oversight” and “failed leadership.” Daniel Dellinger, the Legion’s national commander told Army Times, “There needs to be a change, and that change needs to occur at the top.”