Veterans Affairs officials came in for a bipartisan tongue-lashing Wednesday night from the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, with lawmakers accusing the VA of "stonewalling" requests for documents pertinent to the investigation into long wait times for healthcare.
The contentious committee hearing came hours after an interim report from the VA's inspector general was released. It found systemic problems throughout the VA network in scheduling veterans for medical appointments, as well as "instances of manipulation" to mask long waits.
"Until VA understands that we're deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day," committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) warned three VA officials at the hearing. Earlier in the day, Miller called for VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to resign.
Although the VA has produced more than 5,500 pages of documents, Miller accused the agency of stonewalling the panel and failing to produce all of the documents it has sought.
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Michael H. Michaud of Maine, added, "Let me be clear. I am not happy.... We do expect answers."
The inspector general’s investigation has expanded to 42 sites, up from the 26 previously reported. VA facilities in Phoenix, San Antonio and Fort Collins, Colo., have been identified as subjects of the review, but the inspector general’s office has declined to identify others. That has frustrated members of Congress eager to know about facilities in their districts.
"I think every member of Congress is going to be looking at their local VA centers and wanting to know the truth on what's happening in their own communities," Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) said.
Miller grilled VA officials about an email written by a Los Angeles VA employee alleging the facility was manipulating wait times. In the email obtained by the panel, the employee asked where to report "inappropriate scheduling practices."
Another email obtained by the panel showed that a Los Angeles VA official had dismissed the worker as "an angry employee who did not get her performance award."
Thomas Lynch, the VA assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations, told the committee that the "only concern that I am aware of" related to Los Angeles was the cancellation of old radiology orders. He said Los Angeles VA officials had assured him the orders were canceled "only after a careful review."
"Well, let me give you a little hint," Miller told Lynch. "VA won't tell you the truth."
Lynch pledged to look into the matter.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) took Lynch to task for traveling to the Phoenix VA to investigate allegations of secret waiting lists, but failing to meet with the whistle-blower who helped bring the issue to public attention.
Lynch said he was concerned such a meeting might interfere with the investigation.
Coffman retorted: "I think that your concern was it might interfere with the truth."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times