To hide the fact that patients died while on a waiting list, Phoenix VA staff have even "in recent weeks" manipulated records to make it seem as if the patients are still alive, CNN reported
Pauline DeWenter, the whistleblower scheduling clerk who helped expose the scandal, has confirmed that no fewer than seven records she had personally updated since October 2013 indicating a veteran had died while waiting for care had been subsequently altered.
The purpose of "bringing them back to life" was to hide that they had died while wait-listed, she said. Various euphemisms were used to replace "deceased" including "entered in error" or "no longer necessary," she told CNN.
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DeWenter had not been publicly interviewed until now. She told CNN she had been cooperating with investigators charting the orders she carried out at the behest of supervisors.
She explained how new patients who called for an appointment at the Phoenix facility in 2013 were not entered into the computer system. Their names were instead put on a piece of paper and shoved into a drawer. Anyone checking wait times on the computer could be led to believe that patients were being seen within the required 14 days set by VA managers.
At one point last year 1,700 veterans were waiting for a slot to be seen with 40 new requests flowing in daily. The backlog was due to lack of staff and increased demand.
DeWenter began working with Dr. Sam Foote to document and expose what was happening. In December 2013, the two reported their findings to the VA's Office of the Inspector General.
They decided Foote had to go public when they became convinced that working through the system had yielded no results, CNN reported.
Reacting to the CNN report, Pete Hegseth, of the conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America, said the group's worst fears had been confirmed.
"The cover-up still continues at the Phoenix VA, as well as facilities across the country. In order to hide how many veterans have died while waiting on secret lists, administrators have gone so far as to resurrect dead veterans on paper. It's a horror, and yet another example of why the VA bureaucracy needs to be ripped out by the roots and fundamentally reformed."
He said the VA's credibility had "died with the veterans on its waiting lists."
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