Sens. McCain, Flake Vow to Unearth 'Truth' in 40 VA Deaths

Image: Sens. McCain, Flake Vow to Unearth 'Truth' in 40 VA Deaths

Friday, 25 Apr 2014 07:43 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have vowed to "get to the truth" behind the alleged extensive delays at the Veterans Administration healthcare system in Phoenix that may have led to the deaths of 40 veterans.

The Republican senators, along with Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, have demanded an investigation into claims that the veterans died while waiting months for doctors’ appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

"Our nation has a duty to provide the best quality of care to those who have served and sacrificed on our behalf, and we must hold accountable anyone who would break that solemn obligation," McCain and Flake said in a joint statement.

The two senators have written to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee urging the panel to investigate reports that the Phoenix system kept a secret waiting list to conceal how long patients were made to wait before seeing a doctor.

At least 40 patients died while waiting, and many of them were allegedly on the secret list, CNN reported this week.

Although as many as 1,600 veterans waited for months, according to reports, an official "sham" roster sent to VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., showed them seeing doctors on a timely basis, while the secret list showed how long vets really waited.

Dr. Sam Foote, who had worked at the VA healthcare system in Phoenix for 24 years, told CNN that some patients had to wait for doctors’ appointments for more than a year.

McCain also wrote a separate letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, asking for answers to the allegations, according to The Hill.

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"I am appalled by the number of veterans who stated to my office that the VA was just 'waiting' or 'hoping' that they would die and be one less burden on the system," McCain said. "These increasing individual delays clearly illustrate systemic problems with how effectively the VA is providing care to our veterans."

Sharon Helman, the director of Phoenix VA healthcare system, has been accused of being responsible for the secret list.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, announced on Thursday that his panel planned to hold a hearing on the allegations. In his response to Flake and McCain, the Vermont Independent said he had urged the VA inspector general to expedite an investigation already underway in Phoenix.

"I am sure that you will agree with me that an objective inquiry into these allegations is necessary before holding a hearing on this issue," he said. "In other words, we have got to know what the facts are.

"Once the IG collects additional information, we can engage in a more informed deliberation on the allegations in Phoenix. I will commit to holding a hearing once the IG’s inquiry is complete."

Cornyn, the Senate minority whip, also called on Congress to investigate the allegations while saying that the VA system should be changed to "eliminate waste and abuse," The Hill reports.

"Congress should conduct emergency hearings to get the information necessary to fully root out these problems and President [Barack] Obama should immediately designate an official responsible for implementing rapid changes," Cornyn said.

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