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For now, Justice won't intervene in VA care problems

May. 13, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Justice Department officials have no immediate plans to get involved in the widening Veterans Affairs Department care-delay scandal, but Attorney General Eric Holder said Justice officials are closely monitoring the problems.

At a news conference Tuesday, Holder said his department is awaiting the results of an inspector general investigation into the Phoenix VA health system before taking any action. If that review warrants further criminal or civil action, his department may get involved.

“If the allegations are true, they’re unacceptable,” he said.

The IG review is looking into reports that care delays in the Phoenix system may have contributed to 40 patients’ deaths, and that administrators were covering up significant appointment wait times for ailing veterans by using secret, off-the-books records.

Three top Phoenix officials have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is conducted. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has promised “swift and appropriate” action once the review is finished.

Since those allegations emerged last month, similar allegations of wait times data being gamed have emerged at VA systems in St. Louis, Texas and Colorado. Two employees in North Carolina and another in Wyoming also have been placed on administrative leave while other care delay allegations are investigated.

The scandal prompted the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, and a number of Republican lawmakers to call for Shinseki’s resignation. The White House has flatly rejected that request, and Shinseki has publicly promised to repair both the system and the department’s reputation.

Holder said he is monitoring developments from both VA officials and the news media to make sure the Justice Department is prepared to step into the investigations if need be.

The VA inspector general’s office has not offered any timetable for when its review will be completed.

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