Speaking to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HCVA), Richard Griffin, acting inspector general defended the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAS): “We are scrupulous about our independence and take pride in the performance of our mission.”

House Representative Jeff Miller, chair of the HCVA said in a statement : “The confirmation from IG officials today that delays in VA medical care contributed to the deaths of Phoenix-area veterans and IG officials’ admission that they couldn’t rule out the possibility that delays caused deaths changes the entire bottom line of the IG’s Phoenix report. Absent these qualifying statements, the OIG’s previous assertions that it could not ‘conclusively assert’ that delays caused deaths are completely misleading.”

Miller continued: “[It was] absolutely inexplicable and outrageous that the IG’s Phoenix report failed to clearly make these distinctions. While I am pleased IG officials finally cleared up these glaring inconsistencies, I regret that they only did so several weeks after the release of the Phoenix report and after hours of intense questioning. Getting the whole story out of inspectors general should not be this difficult.”

Griffin based his discussion with the HCVA on the line in the PVAS report stating that “there was no conclusive proof patients had died because of untimely care” and further claimed that “the language” of the report “was not altered at the request of VA officials”.

However, when asked to explain the deaths, Griffin told the HCVA that the delay in time “may have contributed” to the deaths of the veterans who “may have lied longer” if they have received adequate treatment in a timely fashion.

Testifying at the hearing, Katherine Mitchell, medical director of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System (PVAHS) said: “As a physician reading this report, I disagree [with the OIG report]. I believe the OIG case review overlooked actual and potential causal relationships between health care delays and veteran deaths.”

Sam Foote, former doctor for the PVAHS told the HCVA: “The VA IG’s office used a report on care at VA hospitals as damage control, rather than using it to get to the bottom of major deficiencies in the system. The IG report is a whitewash. Patient deaths can be linked to delays in care. I would like to use this statement to comment on what I view as the foot-dragging, downplaying and frankly, inadequacy of the Inspector General’s Office. [The report] was designed to minimize the scandal and protect perpetrators.”

Back in August, Robert McDonald, secretary of the VA spun the report’s findings in a memorandum: “It is important to note that while OIG’s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality-of-care concerns, OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”

McDonald continued: “The VA is in the midst of a very serious crisis. [The VA] promises to follow all recommendations from the inspector general’s final report. We sincerely apologize to all veterans and we will continue to listen to veterans, their families, veterans service organizations and our VA employees to improve access to the care and benefits veterans earned an deserve.”

At the time this scandal emerged, media reported , “Veterans Affairs officials warned the Obama-Biden transition team in the weeks after the 2008 presidential election that the department shouldn’t trust the wait times that its facilities were reporting. ‘This is not only a data integrity issue in which [Veterans Health Administration] reports unreliable performance data; it affects quality of care by delaying — and potentially denying — deserving veterans timely care’.”

The investigation also shows that the Phoenix VA Healthcare System (PVAHS) kept dual records of patients to obscure their waiting times – as much as nearly 60 days to go without medical care.

Media reports show that in July of 2013, Sharon Helman, director at the PVAHS, knew about this secret waiting list that was electronic and “off-the-books”.

Back in April of this year, Foote revealed that the “secret waiting list was used by senior management to conceal the fact that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor.”

Foote said that this “sham” list was a “scheme [to] deliberately . . . avoid the VA’s own internal rules.”

According to Foote, the “official” list showed a waiting time of 14 to 30 days; however to cover their tracks, “the developed the secret waiting list.”

When a veteran wanted to make an appointment, Foote said: “They enter information into the computer and do a screen-capture, hard-copy printout. They then do not save what was put into the computer — so there’s no record.”

Foote explained : “That hard copy is then placed into a secret electronic waiting list, Foote said, with the paper data being shredded. He also revealed that patients wouldn’t be taken off the secret list until their appointment time was within 14 days or less —giving the appearance that the VA was improving waiting times. I feel very sorry for the people who work at the Phoenix VA. They all wish they could leave ’cause they know what they’re doing is wrong.”

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