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Phoenix VA director sits down with ‘AC 360’

PHOENIX — After evading questions from CNN since at least last week, the director of the Phoenix VA finally sat down with “Anderson Cooper 360”.

In an exclusive segment that aired Wednesday, Senior Investigative Reporter Drew Griffin sat down with Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman and her medical chief of staff, Dr. Darren Deering.

Helman said they have asked the Office of Inspector General to conduct their own, unbiased investigation — an investigation that may have been in the early stages late last year.

During the interview, Helman admitted to answering questions from the IG’s office back in December but insisted she was not told what the inquiry was concerning.

Helman and Deering also said the allegations of “secret” waiting lists and shredding paper documents from when veterans were first seen by a physician stem from the staff’s confusion over practices.

When he and Helman became the leadership team back in 2012, Deering said it was common practice to schedule new veterans months in the future. Those new patients were then put on an electronic waiting list — first implemented by him and Helman — and if another veteran cancelled his or her appointment, a veteran was supposed to be pulled off the electronic waiting list to take the now-vacant appointment slot.

“It actually improved the probability of these veterans getting an appointment sooner,” Deering explained. “I think there were some folks who did not understand that, and I think that’s where these allegations are coming from.”

And as for the accusations that 40 veterans died “because of” Helman and Deering, Deering said it was unrelated, and essentially, just par for the course.

“In the course of healthcare delivery, we have patients who, unfortunately, pass away,” Deering said. “We have found veterans on the list who have died, but we have not been able to connect their deaths to the delay in getting their care.”