VA places three Phoenix executives on leave over ‘secret waiting list’

The Department of Veterans Affairs has placed three executives on administrative leave amid allegations that a Phoenix VA hospital tried to cover up long delays in service for dozens of patients who died while waiting for care.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement Thursday that the department was placing the medical center’s director, Sharon Helman, as well as its associate director, Lance Robinson, and a third unidentified employee on leave “until further notice.”

Vietnam veteran Chuck Tharp, foreground, listens as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), second from left, and Jeff Flake, left (R-Ariz.) finish up a news conference to discuss recent reports about the Phoenix VA hospital. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

“We believe it is important to allow an independent, objective review to proceed,” Shinseki said. “These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable, and if the Inspector General’s investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken.”

Whistleblowers have said the Phoenix hospital created a “secret waiting list” to hide delays in treatment. But Helman and the hospital’s chief of staff have denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme or any deaths caused by delays.

Robert Petzel, head of the VA’s health services, told a Senate committee Wednesday that a preliminary review of the Phoenix matter found nothing to support the allegations of wrongdoing there.

“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,” Petzel said.

The Associated Press reported the leave actions in an article Thursday. That same day, the Arizona Republic reported that a VA doctor claims that the Phoenix hospital tried to destroy records of falsified wait times as recently as Sunday.

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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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Josh Hicks · May 2, 2014