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Posted at 3:11 p.m. on June 9, 2014
As the Veterans Affairs scandal expands and unfolds across the country, lawmakers are taking matters into their own hands back home to draw more local attention to problems at VA medical facilities.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp wasn’t satisfied with the answers he was getting from a VA hospital in Wichita, Kan., so the Republican lawmaker planned an ambush, bringing along a local television crew. The result was an acknowledgment of long waiting lists and deeper concerns about veterans’ health care.
The recess move followed Capitol Hill complaints about the unraveling scandal at a VA hospital in Phoenix, as well as reports that nine veterans may have been placed on an unofficial waiting list for health care at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Huelskamp’s Kansas district.
Sen. Pat Roberts visited the center on May 30 and was told “everything was fine,” Huelskamp told CQ Roll Call. Facility director Francisco Vazquez said then that there were nine veterans on an unauthorized waiting list. It turned out there was more to the story, so Huelskamp pounced.
On June 4, a local TV station joined the congressman and they arrived unannounced. Vasquez was attending a management conference in Denver, so Huelskamp demanded officials at the facility put him on the phone. He said he viewed the situation like “leaving New Jersey when the hurricane is coming,” and refused to leave until the hospital agreed to send him a report on the alleged waiting list within 24 hours.
Huelskamp told CQ Roll Call that the facility confirmed there was an “unauthorized” waiting list for the home-based primary care program, designed for veterans already receiving primary care but who would benet from medical professional visits to their homes.
Vasquez wrote Huelskamp a letter revealing “it was determined” on May 21 that the home-care program had a “non-sanctioned list of patients.” The congressman said he believes the letter proves the facility either “misled or lied to Senator Pat Roberts.”
According to Vazquez’s letter, the VA found 385 veterans on a secret waiting list, and identified 20 patients as “being at risk of potential adverse impact as a result of delays in entry into the Home Based Primary Care.” Vasquez wrote that “no patients were harmed as a result of use of this unauthorized list,” adding that is “the best possible outcome.”
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback now wants a state review of VA sites.
But Huelskamp is not satisfied. He’s forwarding the Vasquez letter to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the VA inspector general, and he’s seeking more information.
“The more questions you ask, the more questions you have,” Huelskamp said. He is “convinced” there are more on the waiting list.
Huelskamp is monitoring to see if there is any retribution for a “brave bureaucrat” who may have disclosed the existence of this secret waiting list, and he’s waiting for more news from the VA on whether there might be other waiting lists.
The Veterans’ Affairs Committee was scheduled to conduct a Monday night oversight hearing on “data manipulation and VA healthcare,” and a report this week from the Government Accountability Office on VA outpatient clinics is unlikely to tamp down the VA criticism.
Huelskamp is convinced this is bigger than Phoenix or Wichita, or the eight other waiting lists the VA now acknowledges: “Yes, it’s systemic, that’s the key word.”