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POLITICS: PennAve

Veterans Affairs official: 14-day appointment goal encouraged hidden wait lists

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,PennAve,Veterans

The House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing Wednesday night on the failures at the Phoenix VA medical center. Three VA officials testified for several hours about the problems in Phoenix, which were outlined in an inspector general's report issued earlier Wednesday. The IG report found that nearly 3,000 veterans were waiting for care, with 1,700 not even entered on an official waiting list.

• Secret waiting lists are “misunderstood.”: Thomas Lynch, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said the lists were created in order to reschedule veterans whose appointments were cancelled and then lists were destroyed to protect privacy. “It was not a wait list, it was an interim work product,” Lynch, a physician, said.

• A national audit of the VA is coming: Officials told the committee the VA inspector general is conducting an investigation of the entire VA system to determine if the problems in Phoenix exist nationwide. The results are being compiled now and will be done "in the next week or so." None of the VA officials would pledge that Congress will get to see the report.

“I have no doubt the committee will get that report, I just do not have responsibility for it,” Lynch said.

• Cancelled appointments justified: Appointments were cancelled, Lynch said, “to reschedule them to be more timely” and to “reschedule them sooner.”

• VA officials pushed into hiding wait lists by overly ambitious goals: Officials suggested the cause of the wait list coverup was a newly implemented goal of treating veterans within 14 days.”I think we elevated a performance measure to a goal. They began to focus on achieving care within 14 days. They were flawed measures.”

• Lots of lawyers: There are 700 lawyers at the VA, some of them are holding on to documents and materials sought by congressional investigators.

• Number of veterans and doctors top VA officials met with when they traveled to investigate the Phoenix VA scandal: Zero. Lynch said he has talked to one veteran who called his office.

• Document shredders unknown: VA officials did not identify or meet with the people accused of destroying the secret waiting lists in Phoenix. “They were schedulers who were working on the process,” Lynch said.

• Those on Phoenix waiting list should expect a call: Lynch said the VA plans to contact each of the 1,700 veterans waiting for care, “by close of business Friday.” Lynch said privatized care will be used in Phoenix and to deal with backlogs “throughout the system.”

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