Phoenix VA Chief Linked to Another Cover-Up in Spokane, Wash.

Thursday, 24 Apr 2014 06:43 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The director of a Phoenix Veterans Affairs office accused of keeping a fake list to hide evidence that dozens of veterans died while waiting for medical care is the past director of a VA facility that misrepresented suicide numbers.

Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, is the previous director of the Spokane, Wash., VA facility, reports Fox News, where the VA's Office of Medical Investigations says the numbers of veterans suicides were miscounted.

In Phoenix, Helman reportedly approved a plan to keep a secret waiting list to conceal how long patients were made to wait before they saw a doctor. At least 40 patients died while waiting, and many of them were on the the secret list.

Altogether, up to 1,600 veterans were forced to wait for months, and an official "sham" roster showed them seeing doctors on a timely basis, while the secret list showed how long the vets really had been waiting.

In Spokane, while Helman was in charge, at least 22 veterans in that VA service area
committed suicide between July 2007 and July 2008. However, the agency reported there were only nine suicides and 34 attempted suicides.

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Shortly after the news about the suicide data broke, Helman was transferred to the VA hospital in Hines, Ill., even though she had been in Spokane only two years. After that, she moved on to Phoenix, becoming the VA system director in February 2012.

Helman told The Arizona Republic earlier this week that she did not know of any patients that died while waiting for care, and she does not know anything about patient access being manipulated.

VA spokeswoman Jean Schaefer told Fox the agency is seeking an independent review about the situation in Arizona.

However, Pete Hegseth, chief executive officer for Concerned Veterans for America, pointed out the Phoenix scandal is not the first time Helman has been accused of manipulating patients' data.

"She fudged the number of veterans' suicides at a previous job — and was never fired. She just moved," he said.

And Vietnam veteran William Thien, who leads the 1.9 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars and its auxiliaries, said there should be no leniency granted to anyone with knowledge of the alleged cover-up, including those in oversight positions in Washington, D.C.

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