VA Doctor: IG Report 'Extremely Deceptive' on Wait Times

Sunday, 01 Jun 2014 10:46 AM

By Todd Beamon

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A doctor at the VA Center in Phoenix claims the preliminary report by the agency's inspector general that led to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation was "extremely deceptive" about patient wait times — slanting its findings to make the embattled agency look better than it truly was.

"The interim report was extremely deceptive when it talked about the waiting times on the near lists," Dr. Katherine Mitchell, medical director of the Phoenix VA's post-deployment clinic, told Jeanine Pirro on Saturday on her Fox News show "Justice with Judge Jeanine." "I know what the near-list was, because I helped hide it."

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"So the inspector general was actually not being clear about what was going on, and it was slanting it for the VA?" Pirro asked.

"Correct," Mitchell responded.

The interim report, released Wednesday, was completed by Richard Griffin, the VA's acting inspector general. It found that as many as 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the wait lists at the Phoenix operation.

The 35-page report found that investigators had "substantiated serious conditions" at the facility. It said that veterans had to wait an average of 115 days to get their first appointment.

The document also found "systemic" problems throughout the vast VA healthcare system, which serves about 6.5 million veterans each year.

The report fueled rapid bipartisan calls for Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation, which occurred on Friday.

Mitchell told Fox News on Monday that Phoenix VA staffers were brought in on a Saturday for mandatory overtime — and they were not told that they were doing work that would destroy evidence of the secret wait list.

Realizing what was being done, one employee worked to save the information, Mitchell said.

The workers had been called in on overtime after hospital officials had been made aware of an inspector general's investigation and had been ordered to preserve documents, she said. She worked to address the high suicide rate among veterans at the center.

But Mitchell told Pirro on Saturday that, in reality, the wait times in Phoenix started at "477 days and worked its way down" — far from the average 115 days cited in the inspector general's report.

"There're roughly 55, 56 patients per page," Mitchell said. "I don’t believe that it dropped down to the level of the hundreds that the [inspector general] was talking about until somewhere after page 8 or page 9."

"I think you'll agree that this is something for a criminal investigation, would you not?" asked Pirro, a former judge and prosecutor.

"Yes," Mitchell responded.

She also said that the report did not "deal with the hidden delays in mental health treatment" at the Phoenix center.

Right now, no veteran can get an appointment for "intense mental-health care" at the facility, Mitchell said. "I'm hoping that will be in their final report."

Mitchell told Pirro that she talked with Griffin "for about two hours" during his Phoenix inquiry.

"They were more interested in how I hid documents the night before they were to come to the VA," she said.

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