House panel to question VA officials about destroyed documents

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Three Department of Veterans Affairs officials are scheduled to testify before a House panel on Wednesday about the destruction of documents related to the VA scheduling controversy.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee is investigating claims that a Phoenix VA hospital maintained a “secret waiting list” to keep treatment delays off the books, as well as similar claims that have emerged at the department’s health centers across the nation. The panel recently learned that the VA has destroyed the list.


House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). (Alex Wong/Getty Images).

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said last week in a letter to Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the panel’s chairman, that the secret list probably referred to “interim notes” that a Phoenix VA clinic developed “for reference purposes” while entering new patients into an electronic scheduling database.

Shinseki acknowledged that the VA destroyed the list, but he said federal law and VA policy require the agency to take such action with records that are “no longer needed for reference purposes.”

Wednesday’s hearing comes one day after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced plans to introduce a bill that would allow patients at VA hospitals to sue VA employees who falsify or destroy health records. The measure would also allow the VA to fire employees who engage in such activities.

Miller has also promised legislation related to the scheduling controversy. He said last week that he would introduce a bill that would allow veterans to receive care at private-sector clinics if they wait more than 30 days for appointments. The VA would pick up the costs of treatment under that proposal.

The three VA officials scheduled to testify Wednesday are: Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Clinical Operations Thomas Lynch; Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney and Congressional Relations Officer Michael Huff. 

Democrats and Republicans on the committee expressed frustration with the VA for not making the officials available to testify at a hearing last week. The panel has approved a motion to subpoena the employees if they do not appear Wednesday.

MORE: House panel readies subpoena for VA officials

The VA complained that the committee provided only 15 hours notice before the hearing. But the department has agreed to have the officials testify Wednesday, according to committee staff.

The hearing begins at 7:30 p.m.

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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