VA Secret Wait List Disputed by Top Officials at Phoenix Hospital

Friday, 02 May 2014 12:12 PM

By Michael Mullins

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The alleged VA secret wait list blamed for at least 40 veteran deaths at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital is having its existence disputed by top VA officials at the facility, while the top VA physician who first brought the allegations to light countered by accusing the officials of lying to cover up the scandal.

On Tuesday, Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman, along with her chief of staff, Dr. Darren Deering, sat for an interview with CNN in which they denied there was ever an effort by VA administrators to conceal wait times for patients.

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"We have never instructed our staff to create a secret list, to maintain a secret list, to shred a secret list — that has never come from our office as far as instruction to our staff," Deering told CNN.

"It's never come from me," Helman added.

Within hours after the interview aired, Dr. Sam Foote, who first released the details of the list, referred to the denial as a joke.

"They started this secret list in February of 2013," Foote told CNN, having recently retired from the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system after spending 24 years with it.

"At some time, they changed over from paper to electronic, in early summer, maybe approximately June or July. And transferred names over to the electronic waiting list," Foote added. "And she [Helman] was called on an ethics consult evaluation about that — it's written down, documented in July."

The alleged scandal broke last week when CNN reported that upwards of 1,600 veterans were forced to wait months for their medical appointments due to Phoenix VA hospital staff maintaining two appointment lists — an official computerized "sham" roster, which inaccurately showed veterans seeing doctors on a timely basis, and a secret, genuine waiting list.

The purpose of the alleged secret waiting list was reportedly to conceal how long patients actually had to wait before being seen by a physician.

In response to the allegations, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said it would convene a hearing on the incident after a team of investigators dispatched by the VA's inspector general in Washington returned with a report.

"The moment we heard about the allegations around these 40 individuals who had died in Phoenix, I immediately ordered the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Gen. (Eric) Shinseki, to investigate," President Barack Obama said Monday.

Since the allegations were first made, an email from one Phoenix VA staffer has surfaced and appeared to lend credence to Foote's allegations, with the staffer referring to the secret wait list as "unethical and a disservice to our Veterans."

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