Obama faces questions about ‘secret waiting list’ at Phoenix VA hospital

President Obama on Monday addressed recent allegations that a Veterans Affairs Department hospital in Phoenix tried to cover up delays in service for more than 1,400 sick veterans, including some who died while waiting for care.

Answering a question about the matter during a news conference in the Philippines, Obama said he ordered VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to investigate the claims, and he suggested the White House’s calls for increased VA funding reflect his administration’s commitment to former troops.


President Obama answers questions in the Philippines. (Barbara Walton/ European Pressphoto Agency)

“I believe that if somebody has served our nation then they have to get the benefits and services that they have earned, and my budgets have consistently reflected that,” Obama said. “That’s why we’ve resourced the Veterans Affairs office more in terms of increases than any other department or agency in my government.”

“That doesn’t mean, though, that some folks may still not be getting the help that they need,” Obama added. “We’re going to find out if, in fact, that’s the case.”

CNN reported last week that the Phoenix VA hospital developed a “secret waiting list” to avoid department policies on reporting extended delays. The agency paid a base salary of $196,000 and a bonus $9,000 last year to the medical center’s director, Sharon Helman.

The VA inspector general’s office has launched an investigation of the allegations, and the head of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has promised to hold a hearing after the review is finished.

In the meantime, the VA has sent a team of clinical experts to Phoenix to review appointment scheduling procedures and any delays in care at the hospital.

“These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and if the Inspector General’s investigation substantiates these claims, VA will take swift and appropriate action,” the department said in a statement.

Veterans groups quickly condemned the alleged wait-list scheme last week, with the Veterans of Foreign Wars demanding accountability, including criminal prosecution, for any VA leaders responsible for the purported actions.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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