“It looks like Veterans Affairs may be abusing [Exemption 5] to do any or all of these things,” Jones said. “Abuses like this underline why statutory reform of [Exemption 5] is required.”
Anne Weismann, the chief counsel of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., said the VA’s response “is completely unjustified as to the names of VA hospitals where these deaths occurred.”
Both Weismann and Jones said that strictly factual information, such as hospital names, is not exempt from disclosure and must be released.
However, the VA argued the information is preliminary.
“The specific information that was requested is preliminary and has not been validated and finalized,” a VA spokesman told the Free Beacon. “That information would include possible locations where consult delays may have occurred, as well as actual numbers pertaining to delays. Until the Department has reviewed and validated the preliminary data, VA’s FOIA Office has determined that it is part of the deliberative process. Because of potential variances in the preliminary data, premature release of this information would inaccurately inform the public concerning this matter. VA is committed to providing complete and precise data about this extremely important issue.”
In response to the news reports, the VA has said it conducted a nationwide survey of consulting practices at VA hospitals and clinics to address the problems. The VA denied or ignored all requests from CNN for interviews with top officials at the department.