McCain, Flake call for Senate probe of Phoenix VA
Two Arizona congressional leaders are calling for a U.S. Senate investigation and hearings into accusationsof "gross mismanagement and neglect" at the Phoenix VA Health Care System in the wake of allegations that up to 40 patients died while waiting for medical appointments.
In a Wednesday letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., citedArizona Republic reporting on whistle-blower allegations about the veteran deaths and accusations that VA administrators have kept "secret books" and misrepresented wait times for health care.
McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., signed a letter to leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs asking for an inquiry and hearings.
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Arizona Republic editorial cartoonist Steve Benson draws his take on Senators McCain and Flake calling for an investigation into allegations of mistreatment of patients in the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
McCain said in the past year his office has been inundated with complaints from physicians and patients indicating that "systemic problems with how PVAHCS serves veterans were not only widespread but also quickly escalating."
"I am appalled by the number of veterans who stated to my office that the VA was just 'waiting' or 'hoping' that they would die and be one less burden on the system," McCain told Shinseki.
On April 10, The Republic reported statements of Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., during a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing about wait times and deaths in Phoenix. The news article contained comments and complaints filed with the VA's Office of Inspector General by whistle-blowers at the medical center in Phoenix.
The Republic in March filed a public-records request for patient access data, IG complaints and other documents related to the controversy. No materials have been provided to date.
Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA system, said Tuesday she does not know of any patients who died awaiting care, and that she is unaware of any improper manipulation of patient-access data. She said the VA has no knowledge of veteran deaths stemming from delayed care, and does not have names of those who purportedly died while awaiting appointments.
McCain met with Helman and other VA administrators on April 18. In his letter to Shinseki, McCain posed numerous questions about care for vets that he said require "urgent attention."
"Whether these deaths were specifically caused by the mismanagement of PVAHCS officials is unclear," he wrote, "these allegations appear indicative of broader trends that I have observed regarding the VA's failure to provide quality health care to our veterans in an effective, efficient and timely matter."
Meanwhile, House inquiries into VA access and care issues continue today in Tucson, where Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will host a field hearing on mental health care.
Kirkpatrick will be joined by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, to review VA access for patients with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.