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Accusations, renewed calls for Shinseki resignation at House VA panel

May. 28, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Jeff Miller
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, holds a May 28 hearing about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
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From left to right, Dr. Thomas Lynch, the assistant deputy under secretary for health for clinical operations at the Veterans Health Administration, and Joan Mooney, the assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, testify May 28 as the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hears from the three witnesses about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Angry House members accused Veterans Affairs officials of hiding subpoenaed documents and trying to cover up the depth of the veterans care delay scandal at an unusual evening hearing Wednesday, the latest bad news in a long day for the embattled department.

Earlier, a preliminary report from the VA inspector general found that more than 1,700 veterans were left off official wait lists for medical appointments at the VA Phoenix medical center, a move that allowed hospital administrators to receive performance bonuses.

That news prompted a new round of congressional demands for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down from his post, in order to restore public confidence in the department. At least 50 lawmakers have called for Shinseki’s resignation, including 15 Democrats.

Despite that, the White House has stood by Shinseki, while simultaneously directing him to get to the bottom of the problem. More than 40 VA facilities nationwide are now being investigated for care delay problems and rumored related patient deaths.

The evening hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee was prompted by the department’s incomplete response to an earlier subpoena of documents related to the Phoenix VA care delays, and gave lawmakers an opportunity again publicly blast officials’ slow reaction to the scandals.

VA officials to date have supplied more than 5,500 pages of documents related to the Phoenix problems, although most of them arrived several days after the congressional subpoena deadline.

Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., noted that several documents — including notes from top clinical operations officials and evidence of a secret, secondary wait list held by Arizona officials — have been withheld due to attorney-client privilege, an excuse he believes has no real legal basis

“I will not stand for a department cover-up,” he said. “Until VA understands that we’re deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day.”

Committee Democrats echoed his frustration, although they said they’ve seen improvement in VA response in recent weeks.

Dr. Thomas Lynch, VA’s assistant deputy under secretary for clinical operations, said officials are still investigating the care delay issues and promised close coordination with Congress, a statement which was met with muted confidence from the lawmakers.

The department is expected to deliver results of its internal record keeping review to the White House this week, and a separate White House investigation into department policies is due to the president next month. The inspector general’s final report on the Phoenix and widening care delay issues is expected in August.

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