Veteran dies in VA hospital while waiting 30 minutes for ambulance

Veteran dies in VA hospital while waiting 30 minutes for ambulance
Staff members at an Albuquerque Veterans Affairs hospital who called an ambulance after a veteran collapsed in the cafeteria followed procedure, officials said. (Russell Contreras / Associated Press)

A veteran who collapsed in an Albuquerque Veterans Affairs hospital cafeteria this week died after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance to transport him around the complex to the emergency room, officials confirmed Thursday.

Witnesses said the unidentified man appeared to be having a heart attack, but instead of being taken immediately to the ER – 500 yards away – he had to wait for an ambulance, the Associated Press reported. The incident happened Monday.


The Albuquerque VA declined additional comment to the Los Angeles Times.

Staff members who attended to the man were said to have followed procedure, which is to call 911, officials told the AP. That policy is under review.

The VA, which operates 1,700 hospitals and clinics and handled 85 million outpatient visits last year, has been rocked by a spate of controversies and critical reports.

Eric K. Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general, stepped down as secretary of Veterans Affairs  in May amid reports that VA employees falsified records to cover up long waits for medical appointments.

Investigators are examining whether VA managers pressed subordinates to manipulate waiting lists so that the managers could qualify for bonuses. The investigation could lead to criminal charges.

Last month the VA inspector general found systemic problems throughout the VA healthcare system in scheduling veterans for medical appointments in a timely manner, including instances of manipulation to mask long waits. At the Phoenix VA, investigators found an average wait of 115 days for a sample of veterans, when the VA's goal was 14 days.

Last week, the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistle-blower complaints, criticized the VA for failing to acknowledge the "severity of systemic problems" that have put patients at risk.

And last Friday, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, who has been visiting VA facilities, issued his own report, finding a "corrosive culture" within the department that has been exacerbated by poor management and a history of retaliation toward employees who report problems.

The department's inspector general is investigating 77 facilities and is scheduled to issue a final report in August.

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Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this report.