Watchdog: Accountability

Sen. John Cornyn calls Veterans Affairs cancer test delays 'outrageous'

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Allegations that potentially life-saving tests at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in Texas were stalled to cut costs drew a sharp rebuke from the state's senior senator hours after they were published exclusively by the Washington Examiner.

Citing a whistleblower's complaint, the Examiner reported Monday that patients in the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System had to test positive for bloody stools in three consecutive screenings before colonoscopies were authorized to detect colorectal cancer.

About 15,000 patients who should have had the potentially life-saving procedure either did not get it, or were forced to wait longer than they should have, according to Dr. Richard Krugman, the former associate chief of staff in the system based in Harlingen, Texas.

Within hours, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, issued a statement calling the practice “outrageous.”

“This report of rationing of potentially life-saving care for our veterans is outrageous and absolutely unacceptable, and the administration's response to this ongoing scandal has been tepid at best,” said Cornyn, who last week called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“Our veterans deserve the highest level of treatment, and it is becoming clear that leadership at the VA has been more concerned with the appearance of care rather than how they provided it,” Cornyn said.

Last week, Cornyn called for Shinseki's resignation based on prior reports in the Examiner and other media about phony wait-lists and manipulation of medical orders to hide long backlogs.

Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas also have asked for Shinseki's removal.

Burr is the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Shinseki is scheduled to testify in front of the committee Thursday.

Texas' other senator, Republican Ted Cruz, could not be reached for comment.

Pressure on Shinseki to step down was fueled when the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization, called for his ouster at a news conference last week.

Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the Legion, also said VA Health Under Secretary Robert Petzel and Benefits Under Secretary Allison Hickey should be forced out.

Shinseki has since said he will not resign, a decision backed by President Obama.

Also Monday, 16 Republican House members sent a letter to Obama asking for the immediate resignations of Shinseki, Petzel and Hickey.

Patient deaths, cancellations of backlogged medical orders and other troubles at the VA since 2009 “clearly demonstrate widespread incompetence and a lack of transparency within the Department of Veterans Affairs,” the letter states.

“Accountability must come from the top,” the congressional letter says. “Enough is enough. We expect more from public servants assigned to oversee the care of our veterans. It is unconscionable that our nation’s heroes have lost their lives due to negligence within the agency tasked with serving and protecting them. Our veterans deserve better.”

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