IG: Phoenix VA Scandal Probe 'Top Priority'

Thursday, 15 May 2014 08:50 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The chief watchdog for the Department of Veterans Affairs says his office and federal prosecutors in August will finish an investigation of alleged scheduling fraud at a Phoenix VA facility – and whether it merits criminal prosecution.

VA Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee the review has "top priority" in his office, Military Times reports.

The inspector general's team is focusing on allegations the Phoenix facility's electronic waiting list for appointments omitted some vets, and whether any ailing veterans died because of delays in care.

The office is working with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona and the public integrity section of the Justice Department in case any findings merit criminal prosecution, he said.
Griffin promised to provide committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with preliminary results if there appears to be "a scene where it would be appropriate."

So far, however, the office has a list of 17 people who experienced delays of care in Phoenix, and none conclusively show the delays contributed to their deaths, Military Times reports.

"It's one thing to be on a waiting list. And it's another thing to conclude that as a result of being on the waiting list, that's the cause of death," Griffin said.

Griffin's testimony came near the end of a hearing that included embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel and representatives of seven veterans services organizations.

Griffin cited deep flaws in the organizational structure of the VA that need to be fixed, and cited seven recent reports demonstrating problems hobbling the VA's health care delivery, Fox News reports.

Examples include a September 2013 report on a VA hospital in Columbia, S.C., that found appointment delays in colon cancer screening for thousands of patients, with more than 50 subsequently getting a delayed diagnosis of colon cancer. Some later died, the report found.

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