The chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has agreed to hold a hearing on recent allegations of mismanagement and neglect at the Phoenix VA Health Care Center.
The hearing will follow an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva and Kyrsten Sinema were seeking a full inquiry.
"I am deeply disturbed by the allegations that delays in care and false record-keeping at the Phoenix VA Medical Center may have caused the deaths of Arizona veterans," Sinema said Thursday. "We need a thorough investigation that holds those responsible for veteran deaths accountable."
On Wednesday, Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake renewed their call for an inquiry.
In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, McCain said he is "appalled by the number of veterans who stated to my office that the VA was just 'waiting' or 'hoping' that they would die and be one less burden on the system."
McCain submitted nine questions he wants Shinseki to address:
"1. Did, as was recently reported, at least 40 veterans die while waiting unreasonably for the delivery of medical care by PVAHCS? If so, to what extent were those delays a causal factor in their deaths? What does the nation-wide data in this regard show?
"2. Does PVAHCS keep multiple lists of veterans awaiting care? If so, what is the purpose of keeping multiple lists? Is this practice intended to obscure how long veterans have been awaiting care?
"3. What is the actual average wait time for PVAHCS patients? Have any previously reported average wait times been based on the alleged deceptive unofficial list system?
"4. To what extent have these multiple waiting lists obscured actual waiting times?
"5. What mechanism is in place to guarantee a veteran is placed on the EWL as soon as he/she requests an appointment?
"6. PVAHCS reportedly paid out bonuses to VA officials for reducing wait times, even though those reductions only occurred by manipulating wait lists. How many officials received bonuses by reducing wait times through the wait lists manipulation? What did each official receive as a bonus? What was PVAHCS's aggregate spending on such bonuses?
"7. According to a recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, no Phoenix patient deaths in recent years have resulted in 'adverse disclosures' to family members. Those disclosures are required when medical negligence or mistakes contribute to a patient's death. Given that as many as 40 deaths have allegedly resulted from delays in treatment due to the multiple waiting list issue, why were no 'adverse disclosures' made regarding those reported patient deaths? Will 'adverse disclosures' be issued? If not, why not?
"8. What is the ratio of doctors to patients in the Phoenix VA Health Care System? Has that ratio had an adverse impact on patient waiting times?
"9. Has an OIG team or other VA oversight body already addressed a waiting list problem at PVAHCS and what changes, if any, were recommended? If recommendations were made, what if anything did PVAHCS do to implement these recommendations? If not, why not?"
On Friday, McCain and U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake met with representatives of the hospital to address the allegations.
"These charges are serious. They have to be fully investigated and our veteran's community here has to be satisfied that the investigation has been thorough and there's no white wash," McCain said.
The senators met with hospital officials for a little more than an hour and asked about extended wait times for emergency services as well as for appointments for specialists.
The hospital denied the allegations and denied covering anything up.
For now, the senators are taking them at their word.
"Those weren't the only allegations that have been made. There are other serious allegations in terms of bookkeeping and access to care that need to be addressed, and I think that everyone recognizes that is the case," Flake said.
The senators are launching an investigation into all of the claims. They say only when those results are in will they be satisfied with the hospital's answers.
On April 16, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs said that as many as 40 veterans deaths could be related to delays in care.
U.S. Marine Matthew Andrade told CBS 5 News that he's not that surprised. The Iraqi vet has been dealing with mental and emotional issues for years.
At the same time, he's been fighting with the Phoenix VA hospital to get his medical care and benefits, Andrade said.
"They told me to my face that they were just so backed logged with cases and struggling to keep up," said Andrade. "They say the resources are there, but there are just so many vets that need assistance, they cant keep up. It's an epidemic."
Last Friday, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox joined U.S. lawmakers and other veterans, in calling for congressional hearings to determine whether there was substandard care at the facility, and if efforts were made to cover it up.
"You think the hospital is serving a need for our community, helping vets, then you find out that there may be corruption, there may be poor service, there may be deaths caused," said Wilcox. "Yes, it's infuriating."
Scott McRoberts with the Phoenix VA Health Care System issued this statement:
"We take seriously any issue that occurs in our medical center and outpatient clinics. Therefore, we have asked for an external review by the VA Office of the Inspector General to fully investigate any allegations where we haven't met the expectations of our veterans.
"If the OIG finds areas that need to be improved, we will swiftly address them as our goal is to provide the best care possible to our veterans.
"If a veteran or a family member has concerns about the care we provided, we encourage them to call the patient advocate at 602-277-5551, ext 6171 or 6172."
"Veterans should not have to survive terrible death, or injuries on the battlefield, only to die of neglect in our VA medical center," said retired U.S. Army Col. Joe Strickland.
McCain and Flake released the following statement on the latest reports of mismanagement and neglect in the Phoenix VA Health Care System:
"We are outraged and saddened by the latest reports of mismanagement and neglect in the Phoenix VA Health Care System. It is unconscionable that officials at the Phoenix VA reportedly would allow a level of systemic failure that resulted in delays linked to the deaths of up to 40 veterans who were awaiting medical care, and then allegedly tampered with documents to cover it up. To get to the bottom of these whistle blower reports, which our offices have been actively investigating for months, we request that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee initiate an investigation and hold hearings as soon as possible. Our nation has a duty to provide the best quality of care to those who have served and sacrificed on our behalf, and we must hold to account those responsible for breaking faith with that solemn obligation."
McCain stressed those responsible for unreasonable delays in veterans' health care must be held accountable.
Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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