Senate to investigate veterans’ deaths at Phoenix VA facility

Tribune Washington BureauApril 24, 2014 

— The chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday pledged to convene a hearing on allegations that excessive wait times at a Phoenix VA facility led to the deaths of 40 veterans.

Thousands of veterans have been kept waiting for care, according to a story first reported in the Arizona Republic, and later on CNN, which also said that VA workers in the Phoenix office used two sets of records to keep the long wait times off the official books.

“I am troubled when I hear any veteran may have received substandard care from the VA,” said the committee chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent. “I take these allegations very seriously.”

The VA’s inspector general in Washington has sent a team to investigate, the senator said, adding that he would hold his hearing after the work is complete.

On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote in a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki that any workers involved must be “held accountable.” McCain and fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake asked for the Senate hearing.

“I cannot express how troubling these allegations are to me as a veteran,” McCain said.

The Arizona Republic’s initial report, published in mid-April, was based on information released during a hearing in Washington, when the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., testified about the problems at the Phoenix VA Health Care Center.

The story has drawn strong reaction on Capitol Hill from lawmakers.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said veterans officials “need to get to the bottom of this right away.” And Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who also called for a Senate investigation, said “reports of these ‘secret lists’ are disgraceful.”

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