- NEW: Scope widens, with 42 facilities now under investigation
- Sen. Mark Udall becomes first Senate Democrat to call for Shinseki’s resignation
- Obama has been briefed on the findings, but is not calling for Shinseki’s resignation
- Sen. John McCain, authoritative voice on military matters, says VA secretary should go
(CNN) — At least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and never placed on a wait list at the Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix, raising the question of just how many may have been “forgotten or lost” in the system, according to a preliminary report made public Wednesday.
Describing a “systemic” practice of manipulating appointments and wait lists at the Phoenix facility, the VA’s Office of Inspector General called for a nationwide review to determine whether veterans at other locations were falling through the cracks.
It also appears to indicate the scope of the investigation is rapidly widening, with 42 VA facilities across the country now under investigation for possible abuse of scheduling practices, according to the report.
The preliminary report sparked outrage from all corners, with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki calling the findings “reprehensible” and ordering the 1,700 veterans be immediately “triaged” for care, while at least one prominent lawmaker called for the agency’s chief to resign.
The VA is under fire over allegations of alarming shortcomings at its medical facilities. The controversy, as CNN first reported, involves delayed care with potentially fatal consequences in possibly dozens of cases.
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CNN has reported that in Phoenix, the VA used fraudulent record-keeping — including an alleged secret list — that covered up excessive waiting periods for veterans, some of whom died in the process.
The big questions remain under investigation, according to the report: Did the facility’s electronic wait list omit the names of veterans waiting for care and, if so, at who’s direction?
And were the deaths of any of these veterans related to delays in care?
“To date our work has substantiated serious conditions at the Phoenix facility,” said the report, which also found another 1,400 veterans at the Phoenix VA who did not have a doctor’s appointment but were on the VA’s formal electronic wait list.
The report also found “numerous allegations” of “daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers.”
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told CNN the finding was terrible and said it was “about time” the Justice Department launched its own investigation.
He also said Shinseki should probably resign, which the Cabinet officer has said he has no plans to do.
“I haven’t said this before, but I think it’s time for Gen. Shinseki to move on,” McCain said.
There have been calls from other members of Congress for him to step down over the scandal, but McCain’s voice on military matters carries enormous weight considering his experience as a combat veteran, a Vietnam prisoner of war, and his work in the Senate on related issues.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado on Wednesday became the first Senate Democrat to call for Shinseki to resign, saying in a post on Twitter: “In light of IG report & systemic issues at @DeptVetAffairs, Sec. Shinseki must step down.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told CNN that President Barack Obama has been briefed on the report, and found it “deeply troubling.”
When pressed on whether Obama still supports Shinseki, Blinken said: “We’re focused on making sure these veterans who’ve delivered for this country get the care they need.”
The VA has acknowledged 23 deaths nationwide due to delayed care. The VA’s inspector general, Richard Griffin, told a Senate committee in recent weeks that his investigation so far had found a possible 17 deaths of veterans waiting for care in Phoenix, but he added that there was no evidence that excessive waiting was the reason.
The report comes hours before a House committee hearing on the Phoenix VA issues.
Griffin recommended that Shinseki “take immediate action” to “review and provide appropriate health care” to the 1,700 veterans identified in Phoenix as not being on a wait list.
It also recommended that he initiate a nationwide review of waiting lists “to ensure that veterans are seen in an appropriate time, given their clinical condition.”