40 Vets Died Waiting for Care at Phoenix VA

Image: 40 Vets Died Waiting for Care at Phoenix VA Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, right, join military veterans and local politicians for an April 18 news conference to discuss recent reports that dozens of veterans died while awaiting medical care in the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

Thursday, 24 Apr 2014 07:31 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Long waiting times have resulted in the deaths of at least 40 veterans at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, CNN reported.

Many of them died while listed on a secret waiting list whose purpose was to conceal how long patients actually had to wait before being seen by a physician, according to the cable news network.

Upwards to 1,600 veterans were forced to wait months for their medical appointments. Two appointment lists are maintained, according to CNN. An official computerized "sham" roster which shows veterans seeing doctors on a timely basis and a secret,  genuine waiting list.

"The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA's own internal rules," Dr. Sam Foote, who recently retired from the VA system, told CNN.

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"I feel very sorry for the people who work at the Phoenix VA," said Foote. "They're all frustrated. They're all upset. They all wish they could leave 'cause they know what they're doing is wrong," he told CNN.

One victim of the secret waiting list was 71-year-old Navy veteran Thomas Breen. He was rushed to the VA emergency room on Sept. 28, 2013, complaining of blood in his urine. ER staff marked his case urgent— "to be seen by a primary care urologist within one week"— and sent him home to wait.

Breen died painfully of Stage 4 bladder cancer on Nov. 30. The VA hospital did not call with his appointment until Dec. 6.

Veterans who die while waiting on the secret list are removed, leaving no record that they had ever presented themselves for care, Foote told CNN.

The doctor said that Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman knew of the dual lists and real wait times.

In a statement to CNN, the VA said that services to veterans had significantly improved in the past two years. The Phoenix VA Health Care System acknowledged "longstanding issues with veterans accessing care" saying in a statement that steps to meet demand had been taken, Stars and Stripes reported.

Breen, like many vets, preferred to be treated at a VA hospital, according to CNN. A recent RAND Corp. report noted that the VA does not bar veterans from seeking healthcare outside the Veterans Health Administration network. Most veterans, in fact, receive non-VHA care using private or public insurance coverage including Medicare and Medicaid.

The VA says it "strongly encourages" veterans to use the VA system but allows them to use "dual care" that taps outside providers.

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