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Congress Subpoenas VA Over Secret Wait List

Military.com

 (Military.com)

The House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to subpoena all documents and emails related to an alleged secret list of veterans waiting to see doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

The subpoena motion demands all correspondence between April 9 and May 8 relating to the destruction or disappearance of the alleged list.

"It's unfortunate we have to come to this," Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said Thursday morning. "But we did not do this without some substantial justification. The past two weeks have been a model of VA stonewalling, which precipitated the need for this subpoena."

The VA said in a statement that it "will review and respond to the subpoena."
 
As many as 40 veterans who were on the alleged secret list died before getting to see a doctor, according to CNN, which first reported the story on April 23.

Miller warned VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 1 that he would issue a subpoena if VA failed to explain why it took eight days to act on the committee's request to order the Phoenix hospital to preserve all documents related to the unofficial list.

Miller said the VA's response arrived on Wednesday but did not answer his questions.

Ranking member Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said the VA has failed for several years to provide the lawmakers with information they have requested on veterans' health care.

"Frustration remains very high among committee members," he said.

Michaud also noted during the hearing that Shinseki has ordered a "face-to-face audit" of VA hospitals and clinics across the country in response to the allegations.

VA spokesman Drew Brookie said the purpose of the on-site reviews by the Veterans Health Administration is to ensure administrators and staffs have "a full understanding of VA's policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care.

The pressure on Shinseki has intensified over the past week as The American Legion, one of the largest veterans' service organizations in the country, called for his resignation along with two other senior VA officials.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is not supporting the Legion's call for Shinseki's resignation and the Disabled American Veterans has not addressed the question.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, among veterans groups the most vocal critic of VA operations in terms of health care and disability claims processing, will decide its position only after hearing from its membership. The organization is currently running a poll on its website, asking members: "Do you have confidence in Secretary Shinseki to continue to lead the VA?"

Participants can choose between two answers: "Secretary Shinseki should continue to serve as Secretary" or "Secretary Shinseki should submit his resignation."

The poll ends at midnight Thursday.

Shinseki has said he does not intend to resign. In recent interviews with national media he pointed out that he serves at the pleasure f the President and leaves it to the White House to decide if he stays or goes. 

The White House, in a May 5 email to Military.com, expressed support for Shinseki and the ability of the VA's Office of the Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review.

The VA says that if the OIG investigation into the Phoenix allegations substantiates employee misconduct, "swift and appropriate action will be taken."

Dr. Sam Foote, who recently retired from the VA hospital in Phoenix, told CNN about the list. His claims were backed up then by several others at the hospital. By keeping a secret list of veterans waiting weeks, months and even longer than a year for an appointment, the hospital's official list made it appear that veterans were being seen within the expected time of two weeks.

Phoenix VA hospital Director Sharon Helman publicly denied the existence of a hidden list on May 1, but was contradicted within hours by Foote and, according to CNN, other doctors who spoke on condition of anonymity.

That same day the VA put Helman and two other officials from the Phoenix hospital on administrative leave.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com