Local legislators call for more VA accountability

Posted: May 24, 2014

Federal legislators from Pennsylvania on Thursday joined a growing list of officials calling for a deeper probe into claims that Veterans Affairs facilities have delayed treatment, potentially with deadly outcomes, for former service members.

"Despicable," was how Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, and 15 colleagues described the allegations, as they called on a Senate subcommittee on investigations to start an immediate review. "This potential appalling behavior towards our veterans, mismanagement of government funds, and breach of public trust certainly warrants your committee's full attention," the group wrote.

The outcry comes as the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General this week said it was reviewing delayed appointments at 26 locations.

The investigation stems from allegations made last year at the Phoenix VA, where three senior officials have been placed on leave following claims that staff members used a secret wait list to hide delays.

A spokeswoman from the Inspector General's Office declined to release a list of the 26 facilities or disclose whether any are in Pennsylvania, saying it would harm the investigation.

President Obama said Wednesday that he expected preliminary results of a review of the Phoenix VA next week and a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration next month.

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick was a cosponsor to a bill to give VA leaders more latitude to remove employees based on performance. In an interview Thursday, Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican, called it "only the beginning" of veterans issues that need to be addressed.

The Senate is considering similar legislation. On Thursday, Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, in a statement called the reports "deeply troubling" and urged a "swift" response if wrongdoing is confirmed.

Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Republican whose district until 2012 included the Coatesville VA Medical Center, echoed the sentiment, saying anyone at the VA or White House who failed veterans "should be immediately fired."

Rep. Pat Meehan, a Delaware County Republican, has called the alleged horrors "shameful."

Some, though, urged caution. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat whose district includes the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, said he heard no complaints during a February visit to the facility and has every confidence that people on the staff there were "serving veterans and serving them well."

He noted that Obama said the review in Phoenix thus far has not directly linked any deaths to care delays.

"The one thing we don't want," Fattah said, "is for veterans to not seek care by hyping or creating a situation."


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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