Florida Republicans Continue to Demand Answers On VA Hospitals

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: May 15, 2014 3:55 AM
Marco Rubio, Eric Shinseki, Vern Buchanan

Marco Rubio, Eric Shinseki, Vern Buchanan

With U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki under fire after reports emerged that secret waiting lists were used in a VA hospital in Arizona, Florida Republicans in Congress are continuing to push for more accountability.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., demanded answers on Tuesday if similar lists were in place for Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMC) in Florida. The VA hospital in Phoenix altered its waiting list to appear wait times were less than they actually were, leading to the deaths of 40 veterans.

“I am deeply concerned about media reports referencing a secret electronic wait list maintained by a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center (VAMC) in Arizona that may have caused delayed medical care for certain veterans, resulting in injuries and even deaths,” Rubio wrote in a letter sent to Shinseki on Tuesday. “I understand you have rightly directed an immediate investigation into the matter.

“However, I believe further steps need to be taken to determine if other VAMCs are engaging in similar practices,” Rubio continued. “The VA needs to obtain data on all VAMCs timeframes for diagnosis and treatment, and determine if any veterans died or were injured in situations where there was delayed medical care.

“I am writing to request you obtain, and provide me with, electronic wait list data for all VA medical centers in Florida, and please include information from the VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi, Miss., since it treats veterans residing in Florida’s Panhandle,” Rubio added. “In addition to that data, I am also seeking your assurances that the VAMCs treating Floridians are not keeping their own separate, secret wait lists that have not been disclosed.”

Rubio wasn’t alone in keeping the pressure on Shinseki. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., called for Congress to pass a bill giving the VA secretary more flexibility to demote senior officials in the department.

“It’s a national disgrace if any veteran who served their country died from negligence,” said Buchanan on Wednesday. “Those responsible for these atrocious acts must be terminated immediately and a congressional investigation should leave no stone unturned in finding out how this happened and how it can be prevented in the future. It’s also essential that Congress enact sweeping reforms to address the VA’s systematic lack of accountability and oversight.”

In the meantime, the White House points to Shinseki’s recent launch of a face-to-face investigation of all VA medical centers around the country and has not asked for the secretary’s resignation even as more Republicans in Congress call for it. 

“The president takes the allegations around the Phoenix situation very seriously, and that’s why he immediately directed Sec. Shinseki to investigate,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday. “And Sec. Shinseki has also invited the independent Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review.

“It is essential that we ensure that our nation’s veterans get the benefits and services that they deserve and they have earned,” Carney continued. “The president remains confident that Sec. Shinseki has the ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings.”

Carney also took questions on whether VA has the capacity to deal with the 9 million vets who need medical care.

“The claim backlog refers to the disability compensation, not to VA health care. So the issue under investigation in Phoenix has to do with access to VA health care,” Carney insisted. “The issue of the claims backlog has to do with disability compensation. And the VA has cut the disability claims backlog by 50 percent since March of 2013, and is continuing to push hard to make progress on that backlog.

“I can also tell you that under the leadership of Sec. Shinseki and his team, the VA has made strong progress to better serve veterans both now and in the future,” Carney added. “And there’s more work to do, and the secretary, of course, knows this. The VA’s progress includes enrolling 2 million veterans in high-quality VA health care, reducing veterans’ homelessness by 24 percent, providing post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to more than 1 million students, and decreasing, as I noted, the disability claims backlog by nearly 50 percent. So there is a broad effort underway to improve services, to attack the disability claims backlog, and also to investigate what happened in Phoenix.”

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

Comments (5)

Vincent Crespi
12:31PM MAY 15TH 2014
Guess what people? THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO SERVED ARE DYING, NEGLIGENTLY, THEY KEPT ALL OF US SAFE AND SAW THINGS FEW WILL EVER IMAGINE!! For ONCE, will SOMEONE, DEMAND accountability? The blame game is old, and gets us nowhere but worse off!! NOBODY is above the law, even if they think they are and they need to be shown that, ANYONE INVOLVED DESERVES PROSECUTION!! After all, if it were our kids or families this happened to, WE WOULD WANT NOTHING LESS now wouldn't we?
5:34PM MAY 16TH 2014
Your frustration and anger are understandable. However, the VA is suffering from a massive bureaucratic organizational failure, that has been evident since the time of the Vietnam war. Seeking out individuals to "prosecute" will do very little to help solve that. The VA needs to be literally pulled apart, and rebuilt.
9:45AM MAY 15TH 2014
Of course I hope we find a way to resolve problems at the VA. As important, or maybe more important, I hope we find a way to stop sending our young men and women to war. We hire politicians to sit at a table and talk and negotiate to resolve differences. Sending the young to be killed and wounded in a war does not resolve anything.
Duane Overholt
8:03AM MAY 15TH 2014
Who really controls the money---or lack of money --or reduction of money-------especially when/where money is used. Republican controlled House.

People at the VA: have to find ways to help as many as possible within those money limits.

THEN THESE REPUBLICANS ATTACK, WHEN THEY STARTED IT. PEOPLE OPEN your eyes and close your ears to see the truth.

Duane Overholt StopAutoFraud.com
6:24AM MAY 15TH 2014
Funny how Mr. Rubio noticed the media attention but has apparently NOT even read any of the numerous letters sent him by veterans in the Orange/Osceola County areas! What veterans are only asking is for the care they NEED and not simply wanting. When it's suggested by your VA doctor to stay with a private physician rather than asking the VA to help with a certain condition, it is time to begin worrying about all of your treatments. A veteran cannot obtain a dentist's appointment for up to 6 months or more, and even though a veteran is entitled to receiving referrals to an actual private care physician, the local Orlando VA is very restrictive in agreeing to the referral. So, we wait, and wait. It isn't the doctors, who are way over worked and under appreciated by management. It's the lack of enough physicians in ALL departments to be able to treat us. To heck with the more than two years of waiting for the VA to make determinations on our claims and appeals! (mine is over 2 years) Just provide us the care and treatment we require in a more timely fashion instead of forcing us to wait for greater lengths of time. I appreciate the care I've received at the Orlando VA as my doctor is the best doctor I've had in more than 20 years! The problem lies with the administration at the local level. Try to speak to the Orlando administrator and you're told he's too busy. Attempt to visit his office and you're stopped by the VA security telling you we are NOT allowed to even enter the hallway where the administrator's office is! Forget email as his secretary refuses to provide the address to any veteran requesting it. This can go one but I won't bore you any longer. Just know that the Orlando and St. Petersburg centers are not the very best they could be. Not by a long shot!

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