The inquiry into whether a Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix falsified government records to hide excessive wait times has broadened to include several other veterans centers nationwide, as officials said Thursday that complaints about delays in appointment-making and inadequate treatment date back almost a decade.
Federal prosecutors have joined the agency's investigation to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.
At the same time, the Department of Veterans Affairs' acting inspector general testified that a preliminary review of 17 patient deaths associated with the Arizona center had not shown they were caused by delays in receiving treatment.
"It's one thing to be on a waiting list," said Richard J. Griffin, acting inspector general for the VA. "It's another thing to conclude that as a result of being on a waiting list, that was the cause of death."
But he said his office was reviewing far more than the 40 possible deaths first widely reported as being associated with the Phoenix facility.
The latest disclosures renewed calls for embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary
Shinseki testified Thursday before the
He signaled that he had no plans to leave office unless President
Obama has stood by Shinseki, one of his longest-serving Cabinet secretaries. But the
White House spokesman
Republican leaders, including Sen.
But a growing group of lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle is audibly dissatisfied with what it characterizes as long-running systemic problems throughout the veterans' healthcare system. One Democratic senator called for the
Several senators provided detailed stories from their home states about long wait times, dating back several years.
The memo told center directors that such practices would not be tolerated because the "work-arounds" compromised the "honesty of our work."
"There's no gray area," Isakson said. "It's not, 'We think this is happening.' It's, 'We know this is happening.'"
"Clearly this problem has gone on far too long," said Sen.
Shinseki testified for more than an hour as the committee chairman, Sen.
It was Shinseki, who previously served as the Army's chief of staff, who clashed with the
But in many cases, Shinseki appeared unaware Thursday of specific problems senators raised, and he showed little urgency in his responses to their pleas for immediate action.
When asked by Sanders whether VA officials were "cooking the books," the secretary demurred.
"I'm not aware, other than a number of isolated cases, that there is evidence of that," he said.