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White House knew about VA hospital problems for years, documents show

Published time: May 20, 2014 20:36
US President Barack Obama (Reuters / Richard Drew)

US President Barack Obama (Reuters / Richard Drew)

Despite initial claims that President Obama first heard about the burgeoning Veterans Affairs scandal from the media, a new report states the administration was told about waiting list problems at medical facilities more than five years ago.

According to the Washington Times, briefing documents obtained through a Freedom if Information Act request revealed that the issue of long waiting times and scheduling problems at veterans facilities was first mentioned just weeks after the 2008 presidential election, as transition teams helped fill in the incoming Obama-Biden administration.

In the documents, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs cautioned the incoming Obama team, stating that the waiting times being reported by veterans facilities around the country may not be accurate.

“This is not only a data integrity issue in which [Veterans Health Administration] reports unreliable performance data; it affects quality of care by delaying — and potentially denying — deserving veterans timely care,” the documents read, as quote by the Times.

Although various VA facilities are implicated by the documents’ contents, the issue exploded recently when an employee came forward and claimed that at least 40 patients in Phoenix, Arizona, died waiting for an appointment at the local veterans hospital. As RT reported earlier this month, several whistleblowers came forward to say that thousands of patients were placed on secret, unofficial waiting lists in order to conceal how long they had been delayed. If they died, their names would be removed quietly.

As noted by the Times, the briefing documents obtained do not explicitly bring up employee manipulation of waiting times as a concern, but they acknowledge that reports coming in from various facilities have had issues with accuracy, noting that the problems “are systemic throughout the VHA.”

Additionally, the memos state that the issues within the VA department dated back to the second term of President George W. Bush, when inspector general audits dating back to 2005 uncovered problems. Nine recommendations total were given, but none were incorporated by the time Bush left office.

“Although VHA has recognized the need to improve scheduling practices and the accuracy of wait times data, no meaningful action has been taken to achieve this goal today,” the memos stated.

Currently, it’s unclear what, if any, measures were taken by the Obama administration to address the concerns laid out by Bush-era officials. Reports have come out stating Obama personally did not know about the allegations against the VA until he saw news stations reporting on them – a claim that’s been dismissed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

“It is time for our president to come forward and take responsibility for this and do the right thing by these veterans and begin to show that he actually cares about getting it straight,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

Investigations are currently underway in Phoenix, as well as Texas and Wyoming, in order to uncover the full extent of the problem. The White House added that one of Obama’s top aides, deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, has been dispatched to Phoenix to look into the possibility that veterans died while waiting to see doctors.

Although some lawmakers and veterans groups have called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, the administration has yet to move in that direction.

“He has strongly supported the action taken by Secretary Shinseki. He has sent over one of his most trusted advisers from the White House, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, to assist in that review,” Carney said, as quoted by The Hill. “And he expects results from the review and he hopes for results from the independent investigation.”

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