Veterans Still Dying While Waiting for Care at Phoenix VA

Phoenix VA Health Care Center
The Phoenix VA Health Care Center / AP
October 5, 2016

Veterans are still dying while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital at the center of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs wait list scandal exposed more than two years ago.

According to a report released by the agency’s inspector general on Tuesday, delays in care at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, or PVAHCS, persist and may have contributed to the death of at least one veteran in the Phoenix area.

The Phoenix VA hospital was the center of the fake wait list scandal that sparked national outrage more than two years ago, when veterans were found to have died waiting for care as VA employees kept secret lists to hide long waits. The controversy led then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign and precipitated legislation aimed at reforming the federally-run network of hospitals.

Still, multiple reports have exposed continued delays, mismanagement, and shortcomings in care at VA hospitals across the country. Members of Congress have continued to pursue legislation to reform the agency.

The watchdog conducted the most recent review of the Phoenix VA in response to allegations of consult mismanagement reported one year after the inspector general published an audit confirming patient care delays and bad scheduling practices at the facility.

Auditors found that staffers inappropriately cancelled appointments and other consults in 2015, resulting in patients receiving delays in care. The inspector general "determined that untimely care from PVAHCS may have contributed to the death of one patient."

According to hospital staff, there were nearly 38,000 open consults at the facility as of July 2016.

The latest revelations have sparked outrage from lawmakers and veterans groups.

"More than two years after the Phoenix VA Health Care System became ground zero for VA’s wait-time scandal, many of its original problems remain, and this report is proof of that sad fact," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, in a statement Tuesday. "It’s clear veterans are still dying while waiting for care, that delays may have contributed to the recent death of at least one veteran and the work environment in Phoenix is marred by confusion and dysfunction."

"VA’s performance in Phoenix and across the nation will never improve until there are consequences up and down the chain of command for these and other persistent failures," Miller continued. "Unfortunately, given that this report is largely devoid of clear lines of accountability to those responsible for Phoenix VAHCS’s current problems, it is unlikely these issues will be solved anytime soon."

Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republican senators from Arizona, released a joint statement saying that the latest report "confirms that cultural change at the Phoenix VA is still desperately needed."

A representative for Concerned Veterans for America, a group advocating for VA reform, described the shortcomings as a result of the VA’s "toxic leadership."

"Arizona veterans are now on our seventh director in three years in Phoenix–we haven’t had a competent leader here in years," Matt Dobson, the Arizona state director for Concerned Veterans for America, said in a statement. "How can veterans expect to see anything but continued wait times and scandal when there is zero accountability for these so-called ‘leaders’?"