Interim VA Secretary: 18 Confirmed Deaths From Secret Wait Lists

Thursday, 05 Jun 2014 08:15 PM

By Jason Devaney

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Sloan Gibson, the temporary head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, confirmed Thursday that 18 current and/or former members of the military died after being put on a secret waiting list.

The troubled agency is embroiled in a scandal involving fake waiting lists and reports that 40 veterans died while waiting months to be seen by doctors at the Phoenix VA hospital.

Gibson, a former Army infantry officer who earned both Airborne and Ranger qualifications during his military service, was hired to be the VA's deputy secretary in February. He was temporarily promoted to secretary after Eric Shinseki resigned on May 30 while a permanent replacement is found.

Dr. Sam Foote, who worked at the Phoenix hospital until his retirement in December, spent months trying to alert VA authorities about the false record keeping that was taking place in the facility. There were allegedly two waiting lists — the real one, which was kept in secret, and a false one, which was used for reporting purposes. Veterans seeking treatment for a variety of injuries and ailments reportedly had to wait months just to see a doctor, a fact that remained hidden because of the fake list.

Whistleblower Foote claimed that 40 veterans died while waiting for care in Phoenix.

Gibson, according to the Arizona Republic, said 1,700 patients were held on the secret waiting list at the Phoenix hospital. The 18 who died were among that group. Gibson did not know if the 18 deaths were part of the 40 Foote referenced.

"We have to work to earn back the trust of each veteran and we'll do that one veteran at a time," Gibson said.

Gibson said he had details on 14 of the deaths, and most of the patients had come to the VA for "end of life care," according to the Arizona Republic report.

"None of that excuses us," Gibson said. "These lists were not being worked — inexcusable."

Since the news of the Phoenix hospital scandal, other VA hospitals across the nation have been found to use similar wait list tactics. A whistleblower at the St. Louis VA Medical Center said he's been bullied and punished after saying doctors at that facility were not working as much as they should.

And in Florida, VA hospitals have been said to have "deplorable" conditions.

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