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Senator's report claims more than 1,000 vets may have died due to VA 'mismanagement'


Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing regarding social security and disability benefits. (AP)

A new report released Tuesday by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., claims more than a thousand veterans may have died between 2001 and 2011 as the result of misconduct and a "culture of mismanagement" at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The report rattled off a litany of allegations against the embattled agency, claiming whistleblowers are subjected to retaliation and VA doctors see far fewer patients than the average primary care physician. 

"As is typical with any bureaucracy, the excuse for not being able to meet goals is a lack of resources,” Coburn, a physician himself, wrote in the introduction to the report. “But this is not the case at the VA where spending has increased rapidly in recent years."

The report cites investigations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, as well as media reports.

Coburn's claim that more than 1,000 veterans may have died in the decade since 2001 as the result of hospital mismanagement and neglect is based on a story from the Center for Investigative Reporting this past April. The center found that the VA had paid out more than $200 million to settle wrongful death claims by nearly 1,000 families. 

The release of Coburn's report comes one day after Carolyn Lerner, the head of the Office of Special Counsel, sent a letter to President Obama stating that the VA had not properly investigated allegations made by its employees of scheduling manipulation or improper care. The New York Times reported late Monday that the Office of Special Counsel has forwarded 29 cases of VA workers alleging harm to patients for further investigation. Another 60 cases being investigated involve VA employees who allege they faced reprisals for raising concerns about care.

A section of Coburn's report on whistleblower reprisals cites the case of a former employee of the Fort Collins, Colo., VA center who refused to manipulate schedules so appointments would appear to occur within a 14-day period following an initial consultation. In response, Coburn's report alleges, the employee was suspended without pay for two weeks and later transferred to a Wyoming facility with a pay cut. 

Lerner's letter also mentioned the Fort Collins site, at which, she wrote, 3,000 veterans were unable to reschedule canceled appoints. 

Coburn's report also claims that VA doctors only see a little more than half as many patients as their counterparts in the private sector. According to the report, the average caseload for a physician in private practice is 2,300 patients, while the average caseload for a VA doctor is 1,200. 

Coburn's report recommends that Congress pass legislation giving veterans more freedom to see private care providers, require public disclosure of VA hospital ratings given by the department, and increase the number of patients seen by VA doctors. 

"The waiting list cover ups and uneven care are reflective of a much larger culture within the VA, where administrators manipulate both data and employees to give an appearance that all is well," Coburn's report said. 

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson says a departmental review has been launched and is due to be completed within 14 days. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both the House and Senate were sitting down Tuesday to hash out differences on bills meant to reform the VA, and make it easier for veterans to seek medical care at private hospitals. 

Fox News' Shannon Bream contributed to this report.