At least 40 U.S. veterans are reported to have died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system; many had been placed on a secret waiting list.
The New York Daily News reports the waiting list was part of a cost-cutting scheme Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix used to hide the fact that between 1,400 and 1,600 sick veterans waited up to 21 months to see a doctor. A whistleblower, a retired VA doctor, revealed the scheme and internal emails confirm that managers at the VA knew about the practice and some even defended it.
Dr. Sam Foote, who was with the VA system for 24 years, told CNN that the Phoenix VA worked off two patient appointment lists. The “official” list shows that the VA was offering timely appointments within 14 to 30 days, but Foote described this as a “sham list.” The actual list, the one kept secret, had much longer waiting times.
As Foote describes the process, when a veteran sought an appointment, a staff member entered information into the computer and produced a “screen capture” printout, but did not save the information, thus leaving no record that the veteran had been there, CNN reports. Foote says the veteran’s information was placed on a secret electronic list, and the printout showing when the veteran first requested an appointment was destroyed. Veterans remained on the secret list until they had an appointment that was within 14 days, giving the appearance that waiting times had improved, when in fact they had not.
The case of Navy veteran Thomas Breen is just one example of the deadly consequences of the secret list. In September 2013, Breen, 71, was rushed to the Phoenix VA emergency room with blood in his urine and a history of cancer, the Daily News reports. Although a VA chart deemed his case urgent with “one week” to see a doctor, he was sent home. He died on November 30, with his death certificate giving the cause of death as Stage 4 bladder cancer. His daughter said the VA finally called on December 6 to confirm an appointment.
The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington is investigating the VA as well as veterans’ healthcare delays nationwide. Congress has ordered all records in Phoenix, secret or not, be preserved, the Daily News reports.