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Review finds multiple wait lists, huge waits at Phoenix VA

LISTEN: Senator John McCain

PHOENIX — A preliminary review from the Inspector General found a series of wait lists led to excessive waits for medical care at the Phoenix Veterans Administration.

A sample of 226 veterans waiting for care was taken as part of the review. The Phoenix VA reported the average wait was 24 days. However, it was found veterans waited an average of 115 days.

“Our reviews have identified multiple types of scheduling practices that are not in compliance with VHA policy. Since the multiple lists we found were something other than the official EWL, these additional lists may be the basis for allegations of creating ‘secret’ wait lists,” the review said.

The review found 1,400 veterans on the VA’s electronic waiting list who did not have a primary care appointment and another 1,700 who were waiting for an appointment but were not placed on the waiting list.

“Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix (Health Care System’s) convoluted scheduling process,” the review said.

More than 550,000 email messages were used for the review, in addition to 10 encrypted computers and 140,000 files. The Inspector General also interviewed staff, reviewed medical records and complaints and looked into the staff. The review was led by one of President Barack Obama’s closest advisers.

As a result, the Inspector General recommended the VA provide care to the 1,700 veterans who were not placed on a wait list, review the “extended wait lists” for those greatest in need of care and conduct a national review.

Shortly after the review was made public, Sen. John McCain said it is time VA Secretary Gen. Erik Shinseki should “move on.”

In April, the VA cleared itself of any wrongdoing.

“To date, we have found no evidence of a secret list, and we have found no patients who have died because they have been on a wait list,” said Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the VA’s Veterans Health Administration at the time. The Inspector General’s report had not been filed at that time.

Dr. Samuel Foote, who had worked for the Phoenix VA for more than 20 years before retiring in December, brought the allegations to light and says his complaints to his supervisors were ignored. He accused Arizona VA leaders of collecting bonuses for reducing patient wait times, but he said the purported successes resulted from data manipulation rather than improved service for veterans.

“Everybody knew that this was going on,” Foote said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Earlier this month, VA Undersecretary Robert Petzel resigned shortly after the VA’s preliminary review.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.