WASHINGTON (AP) - Veterans at the Phoenix veterans hospital waited on average 115 days for their first medical appointment, which is 91 days longer than the hospital reported, the Department of Veteran Affairs' internal watchdog said Wednesday.
The news brought immediate calls for the resignation of Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki from Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Miller also said Attorney General Eric Holder should conduct a criminal investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Richard J. Griffin, the department's acting inspector general, reported that investigators had "substantiated serious conditions" at the Phoenix VA hospital, including 1,700 veterans awaiting care who were not on an official waiting list.
"We have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility," Griffin wrote.
Miller said the report confirmed that "wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country."
Griffin said his office has increased the number of VA health care facilities it is investigating to 42 nationwide.
The report said 84 percent of a statistical sample of 226 veterans at the Phoenix hospital waited more than 14 days for an appointment. VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for an appointment.
About 25 percent of the 226 received some level of care, such as in the emergency room or walk-in clinics, while awaiting a primary care appointment, the report said.
The report said the inspector general is studying allegations that delays in appointments resulted in patient deaths. It said conclusions on that question won't be reached until after investigators analyze medical records, death certificates and autopsy results.
It recommended that Shinseki take immediate action to provide care for the 1,700 veterans whose names were not on an official waiting list.
The report said Shinseki should review existing waiting lists at Phoenix to identify veterans at greatest risk because of the appointment delays and provide appropriate care.
Following the release of the report, Rep. Jeff Miller, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, released the following statement:
"Today the inspector general confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt what was becoming more obvious by the day: wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country. Right now, there are two things that need to happen. Attorney General Eric Holder should launch a criminal investigation into VA's widespread scheduling corruption and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign immediately. Shinseki is a good man who has served his country honorably, but he has failed to get VA's health care system in order despite repeated and frequent warnings from Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the IG. What's worse, to this day, Shinseki – in both word and deed – appears completely oblivious to the severity of the health care challenges facing the department. VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department's culture of complacency with a climate of accountability. Sec. Shinseki has proven time and again he is not that leader. That's why it's time for him to go."