Dr. Samuel Foote, a former clinic director for the VA in Phoenix, said during a hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that the inspector general “tried to minimize the damage done and the culpability of those involved by stating that none of the deaths can conclusively be tied to treatment delays.” Dr. Katherine Mitchell, medical director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System’s Iraq and Afghanistan Post-Deployment Center, suggested in her testimony that the investigators “overlooked actual and potential causal relationships between healthcare delays and veteran deaths.”
Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) questioned why the words “clinically significant delays of care” was absent from an early draft of the report sent to the VA for review before it was released to the public. Miller also said it was troubling that the report’s findings were leaked to the media days before the entire document was released, suggesting someone inside the department did so “purposely to mislead the public.”
Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin defended the report, noting that it did describe instances in which quicker access to care may have helped some of the veterans who died. But, he said, “to say that a death was entirely related to (long waits) was a bridge too far.”
Dr. John Daigh, assistant VA inspector general for healthcare inspections, said the agency was unable to evaluate the cases of the more than 1,700 veterans who were on a new-enrollee waitlist for more than 30 days. Because they had not yet entered the VA system, there were no medical records for the OIG to evaluate, Daigh said.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said the department takes the delays seriously, pointing to the department’s announcement Wednesday that it would raise the maximum rates of annual pay by $20,000 to $35,000 for new physicians and dentists in order to bolster its ranks of clinicians and reduce wait times.
McDonald declined to address the criticisms of the OIG report because the review took place before he was sworn in to replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned amid the waitlist controversy. There are no plans to track the source of the leaked report, he said.
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