18 vets in Phoenix died waiting for care: Gibson
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said that 100,000 veterans nationwide were kept off waiting lists for appointments to see a physician. He also noted that 18 veterans in Arizona died waiting for an appointment, although it's not certain that the delayed care was to blame for their deaths.
Gibson said he had details on 14 of the deaths and it appeared most had contacted the VA for "end of life care."
"None of that excuses us," said Gibson. "These lists were not being worked — inexcusable."
Gibson said if any of the 18 deaths is found to have been tied to delays or bogus wait-time stats that the agency will disclose that and discipline the responsible employees.
Gibson emphasized the embattled agency is working to mend the "massive erosion of trust" among veterans due to the failures exposed in the nationwide VA health care scandal. He said the VA would take important steps next week to "improve communication, openness and transparency," including:
• the release Monday of detailed results of an internal audit;
• the release of "complete" patient wait-time data for each VA center nationwide;
• and efforts to accelerate care by using "purchased care."
"We have to work to earn back the trust of each veteran and we'll do that one veteran at a time," Gibson said.
The visit came amid new allegations and revelations that VA facilities have falsified records on patient wait times, a practice that the Office of Inspector General says in some cases endangered the health and lives of veterans.
On Thursday, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced a bipartisan deal to address growing concerns about veterans' ability to seek medical care at VA facilities nationwide. The legislation could get a vote as early as next week.
A CNN investigation found more than 40 veterans lost their lives due to delayed care, which makes you think Gibson may be fudging the numbers. And given what we know about how widespread this problem is, 100,000 who can't see a VA physician in a timely manner seems low.
That said, progress toward a more viable system appears to be ongoing. Although I haven't read it, the McCain-Sanders bill is supposed to give some flexibility to veterans in that they can see a private physician if the wait at the VA is too long. This is more of a band aid than a long term solution, however, and that awaits a comprehensive bill that is in the works.