The VA’s secret “wait list,” – an alleged list kept by Veterans Administration officials in Phoenix – is now making its way all the way up the office of President Obama. The scandalous list alleges that a double set of books were kept – the official list of patients waiting to see doctors and an undisclosed list that bumped patients up, or down, based on preferential treatment. A retired doctor revealed the fact that the list existed, and said 40 veterans languished and ultimately died awaiting medical care that never arrived.
CNN broke the story on April 23, and wrote a follow up piece on May 1. Officials at the VA in Phoenix deny the allegations; the doctor who brought CNN the story and the proof says they are lying. Now, the Obama administration has ordered an investigation.
Dr. Sam Foote spent 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix. According to Foote, Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix are hiding the fact that approximately 1,500 sick veterans were forced to wait months for their initial medical assessments because their names were “dropped” from the online list housed by the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system. While waiting for such appointments, at least 40 military vets died, Dr. Foote said.
Foote calls the official list a “sham” list, and says the actual list has wait times that are pushed back, in some cases, up to one year. The respected doctor said the VA is to provide initial medical screening and patient care within 30 days. To cover up the horrendous wait times, a bogus list was shown to the public, and intake employees at the VA were instructed to falsify records.
Explains Foote: “The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA's own internal rules. They developed the secret waiting list.” Dr. Foote says that when a veteran comes in seeking an appointment, VA employees “enter information into the computer and do a screen capture hard copy printout. They then do not save what was put into the computer so there's no record that you were ever here.”
Foote continued: “That hard copy, if you will, that has the patient demographic information is then taken and placed onto a secret electronic waiting list, and then the data that is on that paper is shredded. So the only record that you have ever been there requesting care was on that secret list,” he said. “And they wouldn't take you off that secret list until you had an appointment time that was less than 14 days so it would give the appearance that they were improving greatly the waiting times, when in fact they were not.”
CNN has obtained e-mails from July 2013 showing that top management, including Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman, was well aware about the actual wait times, knew about the electronic off-the-books list and even defended its use to her staff.
Several other high-level VA staff confirmed what Dr. Foote said to CNN. Foote added that for the most part, the “front-line” employees at the VA were simply doing what they were told. “They're all upset. They all wish they could leave because they know what they're doing is wrong,” Foote said. “But they have families, they have mortgages and if they speak out or say anything to anybody about it, they will be fired and they know that.”
On Monday, President Obama called for an investigation into what is going on within the Phoenix VA. “The moment we heard about the allegations around these 40 individuals who had died in Phoenix, I immediately ordered the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Gen. (Eric) Shinseki, to investigate,” Obama said.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Helman, director of the VA health center in Phoenix since 2012, and Darren Deering, the Phoenix VA hospital's chief of staff, expressed surprise and dismay at the allegations. This despite the fact that CNN reported they had hard-copy emails showing Helman was complicit in the off-the-book list scheme.
“No secret waiting list has been identified internally,” said Ms. Helman. “We still have not seen the list of the 40 deaths. We have not seen these documents.” Dr. Foote previously said he will not provide specific information on identities of the 40 individuals who died because he does not want to influence the investigation or compromise privacy laws.
The House Veterans' Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee said a hearing will be called to review the allegations and findings after announced the inspector general finishes its review.