Regional
3:37 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Udall: Audit Shows "Unacceptable" Wait Times For VA Care

  Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall responded to the results of a nationwide audit of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health facilities, which found New Mexico’s veterans wait an average of 46 days for primary care and identified New Mexico as being one of a select number of facilities that need a follow-up investigation.

Udall called in May for the audit of the VA health care network covering New Mexico, Arizona and Texas (VISN 18), and former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced a nationwide audit the next day. Udall has also called for an independent investigation by the VA Inspector General (IG) into New Mexico’s VA system.

While today’s audit report evaluated wait times and patient health outcomes, the VA IG is investigating allegations that VA employees were deliberately falsifying records about waiting lists. In the wake of evidence that VA employees may also have broken federal laws, Udall today joined a bipartisan group of senators writing to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take a leadership role in the IG investigations.

Additionally, the Senate is expected to vote as early as this week on legislation Udall cosponsored that would change the culture at the VA, by giving VA officials the authority to immediately remove senior executives based on poor job performance. The bill would shorten wait times for veterans by enabling them to seek care at community health centers, military hospitals, or in some cases private doctors. More information is available HERE.

Udall issued the following statement:

“What has happened at the VA is a betrayal of our veterans – men and women who fought for our freedom – and it is unacceptable. According to the audit, 3,485 New Mexico veterans were on an electronic waiting list for over 30 days, and our wait times for new patients are longer than average—over 45 days for primary care. These findings mirror complaints I have heard from veterans, family members and VA whistleblowers – concerns that the VA initially said were unfounded. The audit again confirms that the VA has not been open and honest with the public or with me about systemic problems with patient wait times.

"Last week, I spoke with the VA’s Inspector General, who will examine whether employees were gaming the system nationwide and in New Mexico and identify whether there was criminal wrongdoing. But the evidence showing VA employees at health centers across the country kept secret waiting lists, falsified records, and destroyed documents, among other potential crimes, is appalling. That is why I’m pushing for Justice Department federal investigators to step in and take a leadership role nationally and ensure that anyone responsible for abuses is held accountable through criminal prosecution. 

“Many veterans like their care at the VA—but they need to get in the door to benefit from it. I’m continuing to light a fire under the VA from the top on down to make sure we keep the solemn promise we made to our veterans to provide them with the best care possible. As early as this week, the Senate will consider legislation to restore transparency and accountability and improve access to care at the VA. I urge the Senate to move quickly to pass it.”

Udall is continuing to receive information from veterans, family members and whistleblowers through calls to his office and a link on his website: tomudall.senate.gov/veterans. Last week, Udall spoke with the Acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin and urged him to make the investigation in New Mexico a top priority. He also sent an initial submission of whistleblower information for the IG to follow up on. 

Full text of the letter to Holder is below and a copy is available HERE:

June 5, 2014

The Honorable Eric J. Holder, Jr.

United States Attorney General

Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC  20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder,

The interim report released on May 28, 2014, by the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Richard Griffin confirms the potential scope and severity of serious misconduct in Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities. The sheer number of facilities apparently involved – more than 42 are now under review – calls for immediate and significant involvement by the Department of Justice. Evidence of secret waiting times, falsification of records, destruction of documents, and other potential criminal wrongdoing has appalled and angered the nation, and imperiled trust and confidence in the Veterans Health Administration.

Although the VA Inspector General commendably has consulted with the Department of Justice, we urge that federal investigators and attorneys assume a leadership role to assure that anyone responsible for abuses is held accountable through criminal prosecution.

While we commend and appreciate the IG's pursuit of his inquiry, an effective and prompt criminal investigation must inevitably involve the resources of the Department of Justice, including the FBI. The spreading and growing scale of apparent criminal wrongdoing is fast outpacing the criminal investigative resources of the IG, and the revelations in the interim report only highlight the urgency of involvement by the Department of Justice. There is a need for prompt results from the IG – not by August, as the IG has publicly said, but within the next few weeks. This challenge requires resources that only the Department of Justice can provide in developing and assessing evidence, pursuing leads, and initiating active prosecutions aggressively if warranted.

Lack of prompt, effective, and independent investigation may further undermine trust and confidence by veterans, and dissuade them from seeking necessary care. Indeed, leaving significant issues unresolved for too long – regardless of the outcome of the investigation – would itself be harmful to public trust in this important institution.

In honor of the service and sacrifice of our courageous patriots, we should recognize and reaffirm our commitment to the best possible healthcare this nation can provide to all veterans. We must also hold accountable anyone who has denied this care and thereby put our veterans’ lives in danger. Your leadership in investigating and prosecuting any wrongdoing will help restore faith in the VA medical care system – in the face of systemic failures – and help correct shortcomings that have outraged and astonished Americans. We look forward to continued cooperation between the DOJ and the VA in pursuing this common goal: keeping faith with our veterans.

Sincerely,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

United States Senate

JOHN MCCAIN

United States Senate

MARY L. LANDRIEU

United States Senate

JAMES M. INHOFE

United States Senate

TOM UDALL

United States Senate

MARCO RUBIO

United States Senate

JOE MANCHIN III       

United States Senate

JEFF FLAKE

United States Senate

RICHARD J. DURBIN

United States Senate

TOM A. COBURN

United States Senate

JOHN WALSH

United States Senate

JOHN BARRASSO

United States Senate

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE  

United States Senate

ROGER F. WICKER

United States Senate

JON TESTER

United States Senate

DAN COATS

United States Senate

MARK PRYOR

United States Senate

RICHARD BURR

United States Senate

AMY KLOBUCHAR

United States Senate

JOHN CORNYN

United States Senate

KAY HAGAN

United States Senate

Information from: Office of Senator Tom Udall D-NM