The Obama administration was warned six years ago that the Veteran Affairs Department was creating bogus wait times for veterans’ medical treatment, according to documents obtained by the Washington Times
President Barack Obama’s transition team was even informed in one VA audit that the delays were 10 times worse than the department would actually admit to at the time.
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The Times also claimed that the figures were so alarming that the inspector general put its oversight on hold until the VA was able to show that its information about the wait times was correct.
In the documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, the problems at the VA date back to at least the middle of the Bush administration. However, the crisis continued after Obama gained power, and the VA cannot now say whether it tried to solve the problem.
According to the Times, the VA inspector general informed Obama’s transition team
that three audits, which originated in 2005, showed there had been ongoing critical issues with wait times and scheduling.
In one audit, the VA claimed 2,900 veterans waited more than a month for medical appointments whereas the real number was more like 28,000 veterans, the documents revealed.
“Through a series of audits, the OIG has repeatedly demonstrated that [the Veterans Health Administration] reported wait times could not be relied upon and the electronic waiting lists were not complete,” the inspector general’s office for the VA told the Obama transition team, said the Times.
The documents showed that the inspector general gave a series of suggestions on how the department could create accurate wait times, including the testing of wait times to see if they were nearly accurate as well as the introduction of measures to guarantee that “informal waiting lists” weren’t being compiled..
The VA rejected both recommendations in May 2008 during the Bush administration, while on Wednesday the VA refused to comment on whether any of the other suggestions were carried out, the Times reported.
The scandal erupted last month when it was revealed that least 40 veterans at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs
Health Care system had died while waiting for treatment. Many of the patients succumbed to their illnesses while listed on a secret waiting list which was intended to conceal how long they actually had to wait before being seen by a physician.
Now dozens of VA health facilities have come under the microscope to find out whether officials used “secret lists” to cover up the extensive delays that veterans have suffered while waiting to have vital medical treatment.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama first learned of the VA scandal from media reports, which outraged Republicans who claim that the president should know what’s happening in his administration.
“Everything is news to the White House,” said Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn. “The veterans’ problems are news to the White House until they hear it through the news media. Somebody needs to be in charge at the White House, and somebody needs to start taking responsibility.”
The president finally decided to order a widespread investigation this week after meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors.
“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it, period,” Obama said on Wednesday. “I will not stand for it. Not as commander in chief, but also not as an American.”
Several leading Republicans, including Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Cornyn, have called on Obama to fire Shinseki f
or his mismanagement of the department and his failure to help and safeguard American veterans.
But Obama says that Shinseki will stay i
n the job for the time being while oddly noting that “if Shinseki does not think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he has let our veterans down, he is not going to be interested” in staying on.
Although the Office of Inspector General is investigating more than two dozen VA facilities, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says Obama should go even further by ordering a criminal investigation.
"You have got a crime being committed against veterans," Graham said on Fox News
on Wednesday. "He should tell the FBI to go and investigate this allegation of cooking the books, which would be a federal crime."
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