A new audit that finds 57,000 veterans have waited more than three months for an appointment at Veterans Affairs facilities sparked more outrage Monday on Capitol Hill even as the VA inspector general said its investigation has widened to include additional hospitals.
"America's veterans deserve better," Philip Matkovsky, the VA's assistant deputy undersecretary, said in an apology at a hearing Monday evening before the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "This is a breach of trust. It is irresponsible. It is indefensible. And it is unacceptable.
"I apologize to our veterans ... and the American people," he said.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) called the 145-day wait time for primary care appointments in Hawaii revealed in Monday's audit — the longest in the country — "infuriating and deeply disappointing."
"It makes me sick knowing that our returned warriors are subject to begging for care when they come home," she said in a statement.
The inspector general announced it is now investigating 69 sites across the country based on reports of employees falsifying records to conceal long waits for care, according to testimony presented Monday evening to the Veterans Affairs Committee.
The audit provided details of wait times at hundreds of VA facilities across the country, further angering lawmakers from both parties as they touched on facilities close to home.
Waits for mental health care for new patients identified in the audit ranged from 17 days in Canandaigua, N.Y., to 104 days in Durham, N.C.
VA facilities in Florida, Oregon and Tennessee had the most patients unable to get an appointment within 90 days.
A senior VA official said the additional reviews were prompted by findings that scheduling staffers received instructions to enter a date different from the one requested by the patient.
"This audit is absolutely infuriating, and underscores the depth of this scandal," said Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Dan Dellinger, national commander of American Legion, called 57,000 patients waiting for more than 90 days for their initial appointments "disgraceful."
There are nearly 64,000 veterans who have enrolled in the VA system over the last decade but have not been seen for an appointment at all, according to the audit.
"This is not just 'gaming the system,''' Dellinger said. It's Russian roulette and veterans are dying because of the bureaucracy."
Separately, the Government Accountability Office issued a report on delays in veterans receiving outpatient specialty care, finding that 43% of a sampling of patients at five VA facilities did not receive the requested care.