Shinseki on VA scandal: ‘We are not waiting to set things straight’

VA Phoenix

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A day after he was said to be on “thin ice” with the President, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he’s doing his utmost to address an inspector general’s finding that hundreds of military veterans may have had their care delayed as VA hospital workers allegedly manipulated wait lists.

In an opinion piece published Thursday in USA Today, Shinseki wrote that he found the report “reprehensible” and that he’s “not waiting to set things straight.”

The piece comes a day after the inspector general’s preliminary report said that at least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and were never placed on a wait list at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, raising the question of just how many may have been “forgotten or lost” in the system.

“I immediately directed the Veterans Health Administration … to contact each of the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix waiting for primary care appointments in order to bring them the care they need and deserve,” Shinseki wrote in the USA Today piece.

Shinseki reiterated other steps he’s taken, including putting the leadership at the Phoenix facility on leave May 1 and ordering a “nationwide audit of all other major VA health care facilities to ensure understanding of, and compliance with, our appointment policy.”

“We are doing all we can to accelerate access to care throughout our system and in communities where veterans reside,” Shinseki wrote. “I’ve challenged our leadership to ensure we are doing everything possible to schedule veterans for their appointments. 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.”

Dr. Thomas Lynch, the VA’s assistant deputy undersecretary for clinical operations, has said there are plans in place to contact the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix by the close of business Friday to assess their needs and get them care.

Describing a “systemic” practice of manipulating appointments and wait lists at the Phoenix Health Care System, the VA’s Office of Inspector General called for a nationwide review to determine whether veterans at other locations were falling through the cracks.

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