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She said it will be difficult for the VA to rebut the presumption that information about the patient pool was purposely hidden.

New Mexico VA officials told congressional staffers during a conference call Friday that the practice wasn’t intended to hide patients but rather to keep track of them until they could be assigned a primary care doctor. It made it appear the veterans had a primary care physician when they didn’t.

The medical supervisor assigned to the patient pool didn’t see patients but was available by phone.

“That’s not the same as a primary care appointment,” Lujan Grisham said. “I don’t agree that’s fair access.”

Among the things Lujan Grisham is trying to find out is how many calls the medical supervisor handled, whether that information made it into the veterans’ medical records and if serious cases were reassigned to doctors who could see the patients.

James Robbins, interim director of the New Mexico Veterans Affairs medical center, told congressional staffers during last week’s briefing he only learned of the practice recently, according to Lujan Grisham’s office.

The New Mexico VA website lists more than 480 doctors, dentists, nurses and other licensed practitioners.