May 29, 2014— -- When doctors revealed that our nation’s wounded warriors weren’t getting timely care in Veterans Administration hospitals, a firestorm erupted.
The allegations of scandalous treatment of veterans and revelations that VA officials doctored records to obscure the problem has triggered several investigations. Probes have spread to 42 VA facilities, and members of Congress - Republican and Democrat - have called for VA Secretary Eric Shenseki to resign.
Here is the latest on the rapidly evolving story:
How It Started
The story began to emerge in Phoenix, Ariz., when a whistleblower alleged that as many as 40 veterans died waiting up to 21 months for care at a VA hospital. The whistleblower also claimed that schedulers manipulated patient wait-time data to maintain a façade of efficiency so hospital executives could qualify for bonuses.
Soon, doctors at other VA hospitals began to come forward, citing long wait times and claiming that VA administrators kept “secret” waiting lists and lied about delays to make it look like they were meeting the department’s 14-day wait time goal.
Who Is Looking Into the Allegations
Outrage over claims of veteran deaths triggered three investigations: The inspector general’s investigation, an inquiry that was initiated at a congressional hearing.
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors’ review, an internal triage of problems mandated by President Obama.
The VA Department’s internal audit, a comprehensive nationwide review ordered by Shinseki.
What the IG's Report Said
A scathing interim report released by the VA Inspector General revealed Wednesday that the average wait time for registered patients at the Phoenix facility was 115 days.
It also found that about 1,700 area veterans were not even on the wait-list and “continue to be at risk of being lost or forgotten” and “may never obtain their requested or required care.”
The report determined there is “systemic” misconduct throughout the VA.
The report did not confirm whether the long delays resulted in veterans' deaths, but promised to investigate the link between wait times and “possible preventable deaths.”
Who Is Calling for Shinseki to Step Down:
More than 125 members of Congress – including more than 40 Democrats and the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs – have joined the chorus of voices calling for Shinseki to resign.
Notably, Speaker of the House John Boehner has not demanded Shinseki’s resignation, saying that focusing on the secretary could “distract” from the real “disaster” at VA hospitals nationwide.
What Shinseki Has Said
Shinseki has given no indication that he was quitting. In a statement today, he said in part, "I remain committed to providing the high-quality care and benefits that veterans have earned and deserve. And we will."
The embattled secretary wrote an op ed in USA Today Thursday, saying, “The findings of the interim report … are reprehensible to me and to this department, and we are not waiting to set things straight.”
“We, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, are redoubling our efforts, with commitment and compassion, to restore integrity to our processes to earn veterans' trust,” Shinseki vowed.
At a congressional hearing earlier this month, the secretary put things a little more bluntly:
“Any adverse incident like this makes me as — makes me mad as hell.”
What Obama Has Said
President Obama has said he "will not stand" for misconduct at the Veterans Affairs Department and vowed that those responsible for allegedly covering up long delays in veteran care would be held accountable if the charges prove to be true.
“It is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period,” the president said.
Obama, who has not yet called for Shinseki’s resignation, told reporters that while the problem demanded immediate action by the secretary, responsibility “rests ultimately with me.”
What (Might) Happen Next
Lawmakers aren’t sure how to address the “systemic” issues cited in the IG’s interim report. Some say the misconduct is due to a combined lack of funding and unreasonable expectations on the part of the administration. Others believe it’s an issue of company “culture.”
In the meantime, the VA has said they'll allow more veterans to obtain care at private clinics and hospitals.