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Watchdog: Accountability

Veterans' advocate says VA tries to 'whitewash' Phoenix deaths

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Politics,Watchdog,Mark Flatten,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,Accountability,Veterans,Eric Shinseki,Robert McDonald

Department of Veterans Affairs' efforts to downplay any connection between phony waiting lists and patient deaths at a Phoenix hospital were branded a “whitewash” by a veterans’ advocacy group.

“There seems to be no limit on how low this administration and VA will stoop to deflect blame for a scandal,” said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America.

“Attempting to whitewash the deaths of scores of veterans by leaking a politically tainted ‘analysis’ two days ahead of the inspector general’s long-awaited report on the VA scandal is yet another low,” Hegseth said.

“This should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who thought VA leaders — worried about protecting their own jobs — would put veterans' care ahead of the culpability of their employees.”

Hegseth was responding to a USA Today report quoting a written memorandum from VA Secretary Robert McDonald commenting on an as-yet unreleased report from the agency’s independent inspector general. The Associated Press also obtained the memo.

The IG report, scheduled to be released later Tuesday, reportedly concludes investigators found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at the VA hospital in Phoenix.

The scandal over bogus waiting lists erupted in April, when a House committee revealed whistleblower allegations that long delays were covered up with paperwork tricks, and were linked to the deaths of as many as 40 veterans.

An interim IG report issued in May found “systemic” falsification of appointment lists to hide long delays in care.

Meeting agency deadlines was a key factor in performance reviews and qualification for bonuses among top VA hospital administrators.

McDonald’s predecessor, Eric Shinseki, resigned shortly after the interim report was issued. McDonald was confirmed by the Senate in July.

In his written memorandum, quoted by the AP, McDonald said that while the IG did document unacceptable delays and concerns over quality of care, “OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”

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