Rubio asks Veterans Affairs for any 'secret' waitlists for Florida facilities

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday asked the Department of Veterans Affairs for any so-called “secret” waitlist files for the agency’s medical centers in his state.

The request came amid allegations that such lists were used elsewhere to conceal long delays for doctors’ appointments and that some patients even died waiting.

Rubio sent the letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is scheduled to testify Thursday before a Senate committee about the alleged lists and related deaths at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix.

“I understand you have rightly directed an immediate investigation into the matter,” Rubio said in a letter Tuesday. “However, I believe further steps need to be taken to determine if other VAMCs are engaging in similar practices.”

Rubio also wants information from the agency’s Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, in Biloxi, Miss., because it treats veterans in the Florida Panhandle. In addition, he wants an update on the VAMC in Orlando after the revelation in February that central Florida veterans were impacted by a waitlist of about 2,400 patients.

VAMC Orlando officials acknowledged the existence of an electronic waitlist after a site visit from the American Legion, as part of the group’s “System Worth Saving” program.

The VA officials said the list was for veterans waiting for specialty care and that it was the result of too little treatment space and the lack of available VA physicians.

Rubio said in the letter that he wants an update specifically on a new Orlando VAMC that is scheduled to open in 2015 because VA officials have said the new facility will have enough space and care providers to help alleviate the need for a waitlist.

“I realize that VA physicians cannot treat all veterans at the same time and that they do prioritize patient care based on medical necessity,” Rubio wrote. “But it is apparent to me the agency needs to work on its timeliness and reexamine its methodology of providing medical care to veterans.”