Florida Rep. Jeff Miller said he remains confident that an investigation into the medical practices implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs will root out those giving the government "a black eye," and called on President Barack Obama to take a larger role in effecting change.
Last week, Sam Foote, a retired VA doctor from Phoenix, claimed that managers have tried to cover up that an estimated 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait up to 21 months to see a doctor, that there is a secret waiting list to hide wait times, and that 40 veterans have died while on this secret waiting list.
Dr. Robert Petzel, the Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health, told a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday that "To date, we found no evidence of a secret list. We have found no patients who have died because they have been on a wait list."
Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV that to his knowledge multiple lists did exist.
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"The facts are there is a dual list," Miller said. "VA says we're misinterpreting the purpose of the list. I don't know why you would have two lists, but there are two, and from what we can tell, the intent was to mask the waiting times for veterans to get in to see their physicians, and once they got within the window the VA sets as their goal, then they would put them on the 'real list' and that would make it appear, of course that the waiting times had dropped at Phoenix."
Miller said that after hearings on Capitol Hill, the Office of the Inspector General was called in to investigate. He added that his committee is collaborating with the inspector and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake to come up with a public report "expeditiously."
But ultimately, Miller would like to see greater action taken by Obama on the matter.
During a news conference in the Philippines last week, Obama indicated that he ordered VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to investigate the claims and reiterated his support for former troops by pointing to the White House's calls for increased VA funding.
"The president needs to be involved," Miller said. "This is one of those things where really the only person that can make the biggest difference is the person at the top of the food chain; that's the president. He has been AWOL on issues for a long time as it relates to the veterans. Yes, you see Mrs. Biden and Mrs. Obama out doing things, but we've asked the president for a long time to get involved and press on [Shinseki] to make sure that the people at the midlevel leadership positions do what they're supposed to do instead of trying to out-wait the leadership that's above him."
Miller said that he is also working to rid the system of its penchant for having employees within the VA wait out the term limits of committee chair, the secretary, and even the president before starting " this process all over again and start blowing smoke at the new folks that come into these positions."
"I actually have a bill right now, talking about clearing out the dead wood, that gives the secretary the ability to fire at will the people at the SES or senior executive level," Miller said. "Those folks should work at will just like a congressional staffer. If you don't do your job I should be able to fire you, period. The secretary says it's not necessary, he's also got the tools that he needs to do that, but the problem is you're more apt to get a bonus at VA right now than you are to be disciplined."
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