VA officials appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee late Wednesday got an earful from angry lawmakers about the growing scandal of systemic problems with patient scheduling within the agency, according to The Washington Post
At a four-hour hearing stretching past 10 p.m., three VA officials fielded questions about the scandal set off by a whistleblower report that scores of veterans in Phoenix died while waiting for an appointment.
Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, lashed out at Joan Mooney, the VA's assistant secretary for legislative affairs, because the agency provided only some of the information requested in a subpoena that demanded all emails and written correspondence regarding the "destruction or disappearance of alternate or interim wait lists" at the Phoenix VA.
"Ma'am, veterans died. Get us the answers, please," Miller said. "Until VA understands that we're deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day."
Mooney explained that the secret waiting lists, which she characterized as an "intermediate work product," had been "appropriately destroyed" once veterans' appointments were rescheduled, according to The Hill
Dr. Thomas Lynch, who is heading the VA's internal investigation, told the panel that some 1,700 veterans appeared on the lists, which were destroyed after patients were rescheduled because they contained confidential patient information, according to ABC News.
Lynch objected to the term "secret waiting lists," explaining that the names were automatically generated by the VA scheduling system to "help employees track appointments that needed to be rebooked."
"I did not think they were secret lists," he testified.
An interim report by the Inspector General found that the average wait time for a primary appointment — a figure reached by doing a sample of 226 patients — was 115 days, far fewer than the 24-day average reported by the Phoenix VA, according to NBC News.
Patients were routed to the "secret lists" until their appointment could be scheduled within 14 days so that Washington would think vets were receiving timely care. Patient wait times is one of the criteria used to determine bonuses
and salary increases.
Miller wasn't the only politician to unload on the VA officials. Rep. Michael Michaud, a Democrat from Maine, curtly expressed his displeasure with how the VA has responded so far, cautioning that the committee expects answers, according to The Hill.
Tennessee Rep. Phil Row, a Republican, wondered aloud how the three officials could "stand and look at yourself in a mirror and shave in the morning and then not throw up."
And GOP Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana asked the witnesses whether they believed they contributed to the deaths of veterans.
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