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Vets’ care delayed in Phoenix, but no conclusive link to deaths, IG says

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PHOENIX, Ariz. — A report on wait times at Veterans Administration health care facilities in Phoenix found that 28 vets suffered “clinically significant delays” in care and six of them died — but investigators couldn’t conclusively link their deaths to the delays.

The report, released Tuesday by the VA’s Office of Inspector General, said the delays were due to scheduling issues.

Patients recently hospitalized and treated in the emergency department of the Phoenix VA Health Care System had difficulty getting an appointment, the report said. Investigators also found problems with how mental health care was provided to veterans.

In November 2013, a CNN investigation showed that veterans were dying because of long wait times and delays. In January, at least 19 veterans were reported to have died because of delays in simple medical screenings like endoscopies and colonoscopies, according to an internal document from the VA.

In April, retired VA physician Dr. Sam Foote said that the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system kept a secret list of patient appointments that was intended to hide the fact that patients were waiting months to be treated. At least 40 patients died while waiting for appointments, according to Foote, though it is not clear if they were all on secret lists.

In June, a VA scheduling clerk in Phoenix, Pauline DeWenter, said that records of deceased veterans were changed or physically altered, some even in recent weeks, to hide how many people died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital.

Concerns about other facilities began emerging. Employees at VA centers in Wyoming, Texas and North Carolina alleged that there was a concerted effort to hide long wait times.

In May, the inspector general said it was going to investigate 26 VA facilities.

A June 9 internal audit of hundreds of Veterans Affairs facilities revealed that 63,869 veterans enrolled in the VA health care system in the past 10 years had yet to be seen for an appointment.

By the end of May, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, resigned. In July, former corporate CEO and former Army officer Robert McDonald was confirmed by the Senate to replace Shinseki.

McDonald vowed to make changes.

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