Continued from page 1

“I offer my condolences — to these families — for anyone who’s lost a veteran, any unexpected death in one of our facilities,” said Mr. Shinseki, a former Army general and Vietnam veteran. “What I want veterans to know … is that this is a good quality health care system.”

The White House has stood by the VA secretary, and Mr. Shinseki said Wednesday night that he had no plans to step down.

“We’re going to do something about it, to get to the bottom of it and to the best of our abilities to assure it never happens again,” he said.

Claims of falsified data

Several reports that have surfaced suggest that some facilities have been falsifying data to cover up excessive average wait times for scheduled appointments.

The Austin American-Statesman in Texas reported that a scheduling clerk accused VA officials in Austin and San Antonio of manipulating medical appointment data in an attempt to conceal long wait times to see doctors and psychiatrists.

The employee, who is seeking whistleblower protection, said he and others were “verbally directed by lead clerks, supervisors and during training” to ensure that wait times at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic and the North Central Federal Clinic in San Antonio were “as close to zero days as possible,” according to the report.

In reality, the clerk said, wait times for appointments could be as long as three months. The department’s goal wait time is less than 14 days. The latest accusation echoes reports about VA facilities in Colorado and Arizona, where officials also are accused of manipulating data to show shorter wait times.

A retired doctor at the Phoenix VA facility told CNN that more than 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments.

Three top officials at the Phoenix hospital were put on leave and the inspector general is investigating a reported secret waiting list on which the 40 veterans supposedly were placed.

Officials at the facility denied having a secret waiting list.

“We have never instructed our staff to create a secret list, to maintain a secret list, to shred a secret list — that has never come from our office as far as instruction to our staff,” Dr. Darren G. Deering, chief of staff, told CNN, but the whistleblower stands by the charges.

Mr. Miller said the VA should solve these issues by referring some patients to other physicians.

“Sadly, VA is not using as often as it should a very simple tool at its disposal to help eliminate these delays and provide veterans care if the department doesn’t have the capacity to do so in house, which is to pay for veterans to see private health care providers — something called fee-based care. So whether we’re talking about allegations of secret lists, data manipulation or actual lists of interminable waits, the question VA leaders must answer is, ‘Why isn’t the department using the tools it has been given — fee-based care being one of them — to ensure veterans receive timely medical care?’”

More protection urged

Story Continues →