This week the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee unanimously voted to subpoena all emails and documents from Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki and VA senior leadership. The Committee, headed by Florida Congressmen Jeff Miller (R), has been requesting all documentation pertaining to any “waiting list” abnormalities which are said to have resulted in the deaths of up to 40 Veterans from the Phoenix, AZ Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center. (1)(2)
Committee subpoenas were issued in response to a revelation by Dr. Sam Foote, a retired Department of Veteran’s Affairs doctor, that patients had been placed on an “off record” waiting list in order to make it appear that the VA hospital/clinic in Phoenix had reduced its patient wait times. In case of exceptionally long wait times for referrals and follow ups, patients were either given “off record” appointments or simply had their names removed from the off-line list. More often than not, wait lists were kept in order that patient appointments might be penciled in at later dates, just prior to appointments, making it appear that wait time to see a doctor had been reduced. It’s a practice which lead to the death of an unknown number of patients nationwide. As it stands, the American public are only aware of the Phoenix deaths.
Removing patients from the computer appointment system cast a favorable light on leadership of the medical facility, resulting in the collection of a tax payer funded bonus. Once the existence of the “wait list” became public, the Veteran’s Affairs Committee ordered the records to be preserved and collected for the congressional investigation.
The wait list fraud is not unique to Phoenix. Rather, this VA hospital represents a microcosm of a larger pattern of record falsification existing within the entire VA system. Once the story of these lists became public, VA leadership apparently went into CYA mode and the possibility that evidence would be destroyed became very real. In fact, when asked to gather the wait lists the VA dragged its feet, hoping to create the time necessary to scrub the system clean. Were it not for the efforts of Dr. Katherine Mitchell of the Phoenix VA hospital and a fellow employee, the American public might never have become aware of a scheme which has cost the lives of at least 40 Vets.