Yesterday, as Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about allegations that VA employees in Phoenix and possibly elsewhere were covering up excessive wait times for appointments, U.S. Senator Tom Udall reiterated his concerns about whether similar practices might be happening in New Mexico. He urged veterans, VA employees and anyone with related information to report it to the VA Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) or to his Senate office. Udall announced that he has created a special link on his website where New Mexicans can report specific experiences or concerns:tomudall.senate.gov/veterans.
Last week, Udall called on Shinseki to broaden the investigation of the Phoenix VA health system to include the full service district (VISN 18), which covers Arizona, New Mexico and part of Texas. The next day, Shinseki announced an audit of the VA nationwide. Additionally, President Obama said yesterday that he has sent deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors to assist the investigation.
Udall said that while these are positive steps, it is critical that the VA act quickly to ensure veterans are getting the care they need. He added that he was especially concerned about reports that the problem may have been exacerbated because the VA was offering performance incentives for administrators and others who reduced the waiting times for patients.
“In the last week, I have heard numerous reports about VA officials in New Mexico attempting to manipulate the scheduling system to cover up the extent of VA wait lists for appointments and other disturbing claims. Veterans who have been waiting for months to see a doctor deserve answers,” Udall said. “I am outraged that this scheme might be going on in New Mexico, or anywhere else in the country. If bonuses were ever given out based on false or manipulated information, the VA should take appropriate action immediately to protect taxpayers and restore integrity in the VA system.”
“I’m also encouraging veterans and employees of the New Mexico VA to inform the OIG or my office if they know about or have proof regarding the allegations of scheduling manipulation or other serious systemic VA management problems,” Udall continued. “With as many as 40 reported deaths linked to the mismanagement and alleged cover-up in Phoenix alone, these reports need to be taken seriously. I will continue pressing the VA OIG to move diligently and expand on its investigation. Additionally, anyone with information about the New Mexico VA may contact my office by phone or through a special link on Udall’s website: tomudall.senate.gov/veterans.”
Udall discussed his concerns during his weekly “Tuesdays with Tom” press conference with New Mexico reporters. For audio and a partial transcript of the press conference, visit this link. Click here.