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Watchdog: 115-day wait for appointment at Phoenix VA

WASHINGTON – Veterans at the Phoenix veterans hospital waited on average 115 days for their first medical appointment, which is 91 days longer than the hospital reported, the Department of Veteran Affairs’ internal watchdog said Wednesday.

The news brought immediate calls for the resignation of Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki from Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Miller also said Attorney General Eric Holder should conduct a criminal investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Richard J. Griffin, the department’s acting inspector general, reported that investigators had “substantiated serious conditions” at the Phoenix VA hospital, including 1,700 veterans awaiting care who were not on an official waiting list.

“We have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility,” Griffin wrote.

Miller said the report confirmed that “wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country.”

Griffin said his office has increased the number of VA health care facilities it is investigating to 42 nationwide.

The report said 84 percent of a statistical sample of 226 veterans at the Phoenix hospital waited more than 14 days for an appointment. VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for an appointment.

About 25 percent of the 226 received some level of care, such as in the emergency room or walk-in clinics, while awaiting a primary care appointment, the report said.

The report said the inspector general is studying allegations that delays in appointments resulted in patient deaths. It said conclusions on that question won’t be reached until after investigators analyze medical records, death certificates and autopsy results.

It recommended that Shinseki take immediate action to provide care for the 1,700 veterans whose names were not on an official waiting list.

The report said Shinseki should review existing waiting lists at Phoenix to identify veterans at greatest risk because of the appointment delays and provide appropriate care.

Associated Press reporter Lauran Neergaard contributed to this story.

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