Shineski 'mad as hell' about VA scandal; won't resign
In an appearance before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, VA Secretary Erik Shineski was grilled by lawmakers on the burgeoning scandal involving deadly waiting periods for vets seeking medical appointments and the subsequent cover up by VA employees of delays in treating veterans.
Last month, CNN published a shocking report that at least 40 veterans at the Phoenix VA facility had died waiting to be treated. The cover up included falsifying records to make it appear that patients were being treated in the 14 day window required by congress.
Since that report, whistleblowers at several other facilities have made similar charges.
At his first congressional hearing since the CNN reports drew national attention to the issue, Shinseki told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that he was reviewing all VA operations and also cooperating fully with the independent inspector general's investigation.
"Any allegation, any adverse incident like this makes me mad as hell," he said, urging the legislators to wait for the investigation's finding before trying to resolve a complex set of problems.
His assurance that "we will act" on any substantiated allegation angered senators from both parties who insisted the problems are real and need immediate action.
Some pointed to a policy implemented by Shinseki that set a 14-day limit to provide care for veterans applying for the first time, saying a deadline they labeled as unworkable resulted in VA administrators devising ways to cover up months-long delays.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina questioned why Shinseki, who has been Obama's only veterans affairs secretary, failed to act sooner on problems long cited by veterans, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and others.
"With the numerous GAO, IG and Office of Medical Inspector reports that have been released, VA senior leadership, including the secretary, should have been aware that VA was facing a national scheduling crisis," Burr said. "VA's leadership has either failed to connect the dots or failed to address this ongoing crisis, which has resulted in patient harm and patient death."
Shinseki labeled possible links between long waits and veteran deaths as allegations, and acting inspector general Richard Griffin said nothing his investigation has found so far proves a causal relationship.
"It's one thing to be on a waiting list, and it's another thing to conclude that as a result of being on the waiting list, that's the cause death," he said.
His assistant, Dr. John Daigh, said frequent delays occurred, as well as deficient quality standards that caused patient harm in some cases.
It's not like the VA didn't know they had scheduling problems. An Inspector General report on the Columbia, SC facility from 2013 reported delays in colon cancer screening for thousands of patients, with some of them getting delayed diagnoses of the disease. That should have raised a red flag inside the agency and started an immediate investigation of the system.
Also testifying at the hearing was Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin, who informed the committee that federal prosecutors were looking into fraud allegations at the Phoenix VA hospital and that charges may be forthcoming.
Heads are going to roll as a result of this scandal. Why not the Secretary's? Because this is the Obama administration where accountability for the performance of a department is zero and incompetents get to keep their jobs months after they've shown they are incapable of performing adequately.