PHOENIX — Dozens of people packed a town hall organized by the American
Legion on Tuesday to discuss lapses in medical care for veterans amid an
investigation into whether administrators maintained an off-the-books list to
conceal lengthy wait times in Arizona.
Dan Dillinger, the commander of the American Legion, told the crowd the
problems with health care for veterans go far beyond what has happened in
He and other veterans who spoke out during the meeting cited a laundry list of
examples that stretched from Texas and Wyoming to Pennsylvania, Missouri and
“Although we anxiously await the findings of the inspector general, what we
already know is there is a pattern of unresponsiveness that seems to have
infected the entire system,” Dillinger said.
“The problems at VA go beyond one man or even his management team,” he said.
Dillinger said he plans to share what he learns Tuesday with federal lawmakers
when he testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs later
this week in Washington, D.C.
Congressional staff, other American Legion officials and the acting director of
the Phoenix VA Medical Center also attended the town hall.
The American Legion has been among the harshest critics of the VA since the
allegations surfaced. The group last week called for the resignations of
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and two of his top aides for what
Dellinger called a “pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed
Shinseki is to appear at Thursday’s Senate hearing.
A recently retired Phoenix VA doctor brought the allegations to light by
complaining to Congress, the media and the agency’s inspector general about what
he called a “secret list.”
Dr. Sam Foote said 40 administrators kept the list to hide wait times and make
their performance look better so they could collect bonuses. He said 40 veterans
died while waiting for care.
The VA has adamantly denied that any such list existed and called it
preposterous to suggest they would put patients’ lives at danger for financial
gain. The Phoenix VA director received a bonus of about $9,300 last year. They
also said no proof has emerged about the 40 deaths.
One at a time, the veterans stood up Tuesday night to share their stories as
the American Legion officials listened. They talked about being given medication
without any explanation, the inability to get appointments with specialists and
the pleading it would take to get to the bottom of their health concerns.
Dillinger likened VA health care to Russian roulette.
“If you aren’t seriously ill or you happen to be near a responsive VA center,
you win. If not, you lose,” he said. “When one patient dies, it’s a tragedy.
When it’s a preventable death, it’s intolerable. When it’s concealed, it’s