- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A government watchdog reported Tuesday that there are still chronic delays for veterans waiting for health care appointments at the Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix, more than two years after the Obama administration pledged to fix the problems.

The Office of Special Counsel confirmed a whistleblower’s accusations that, on average, 1,100 patients wait more than 30 days for care in Phoenix. One veteran died from cardiovascular disease that may have been prevented if he had received prompt treatment.

The persistent problems were brought to light by whistleblower Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, chief of specialty care clinics at the Phoenix VA. The agency also found that veterans had to wait an average of 75 days for psychotherapy appointments.

“In case after case since 2014, Phoenix VA whistleblowers have exposed and helped to correct serious problems with veterans’ care,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner in a statement. “I thank Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez for his courage, and urge the VA to act quickly in implementing all recommendations to improve timely access to care for veterans in Phoenix.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Mr. Rodriguez deserves praise for coming forward with his complaints.

“Sometimes whistleblowers expose matters of life and death, other times they expose harm against the taxpayers, and sometimes they expose all of the above,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement.

Despite his allegations being validated, Mr. Rodriguez faces an administrative board hearing in a few days to face accusations of creating a hostile work environment, said fellow VA whistleblower Brandon Coleman.

“I find sad is that the Phoenix VA continues to go after the whistleblower who discloses wrongdoing much harder than they do in actually admitting there are serious problems,” Mr. Coleman told The Washington Times. “They will grill ‘K-rod’ and more than likely attempt to terminate him on some bogus charge that has nothing to do with him disclosing wrong doing as a whistleblower. His case in a lot like mine.”

He called Mr. Rodriguez “the last of the Phoenix VA whistleblowers.”

“This is why management wants him gone so very badly,” Mr. Coleman said.

In a letter to Congress and the White House, Ms. Lerner outlined her findings, which included:

— During a week in October 2015, nearly 3,900 appointments were cancelled at the Phoenix VA. Of those, 59 should have been rescheduled and were not.

— Out of a sample of 215 veterans with 295 consults who died while waiting for care, 62 of their consult (21 percent) were delayed. The VA Inspector General said the delayed consults did not relate to their cause of death.

— One veteran waited more than 300 days for vascular care.

The Phoenix VA was at the center of a nationwide scandal that erupted in 2014 over phony wait time lists being kept at VA facilities to make it appear that veterans were receiving care faster than they actually were. President Obama and top VA officials have vowed to fix the problems.

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