The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating allegations of obstruction of justice at dozens of VA hospitals across the country, according to a long-awaited report released Tuesday.
The report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General said 93 VA healthcare sites across the country are being investigated in connection with falsifying scheduling records that led to delay of veterans' health care and "attempting to obstruct OIG (Office of Inspector General) and other investigative efforts." The Justice Department and FBI are involved in the probe, the report says.
The anticipated release of the report prompted federal officials to prepare a full-court public relations response ahead of time. Selected media were granted interviews with top officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs days in advance and President Obama delivered a speech before the American Legion Tuesday in Charlotte heralding steps to correct failings.
Talking points and a press release emphasized apologizing for what went wrong but also highlighting the investigation's finding that none of the dozens of deaths of veterans waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix could be linked conclusively to the delays.
Dr. Sam Foote, a crucial whistle-blower in the scandal who worked at the Phoenix VA hospital and who is now retired, said Tuesday that up to 63 veterans died while waiting for care at the hospital.
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The scandal caught fire in April when Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, dropped a bombshell during a hearing on problems at the Phoenix facility, saying "it appears there could be as many as 40 veterans whose deaths could be related to delays of care."
Miller issued a statement in reaction to Obama's speech Tuesday, saying that so far no one has been fired in the scandal. "What we need from the president right now is more follow-through and less flash when it comes to helping veterans," Miller said.
Allegations emerged of veterans kept waiting months to see a doctor, their names kept off official waiting lists and tabulated in secret; and of appointment data being altered to make health care performance results look better.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, right, meets with DAV national commander Joseph Johnston at the DAV 2014 National Convention on Saturday in Las Vegas. McDonald, a former Procter and Gamble CEO who took the top VA post July 30, spoke to veterans during his Las Vegas visit.(Photo: David Becker / Associated Press)
As the VA's Inspector General launched an investigation, later joined by investigators from the Justice Department, whistle-blowers at VA hospitals and clinics across the country came forward to describe similar patterns.
A preliminary report issued in May concluded that the problems of delayed care and manipulated records were systemic. Then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned May 30 and his chosen replacement, Robert McDonald, was confirmed by the Senate in July.