WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he is “as mad as hell” over allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at a Phoenix veterans hospital.
“Any adverse event for a veteran within our care is one too many,” Shinseki said at a Senate hearing Thursday on the Phoenix allegations and other problems at the VA. “We can, and we must do better.”
Appearing before the panel amid calls from some Republicans and veterans groups to resign, Shinseki vowed to hold employees accountable for any misconduct.
Shinseki said he welcomes a White House review of his beleaguered department after allegations the Phoenix hospital maintained a secret waiting list to hide lengthy delays for sick veterans. A former clinic director says up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix facility.
“If allegations about manipulation of appointment scheduling are true, they are completely unacceptable — to veterans, to me and to our dedicated VA employees,” Shinseki said.
The hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee comes as President Barack Obama has assigned White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to work on a review focused on policies for patient safety rules and the scheduling of patient appointments. The move, announced late Wednesday, signals Obama’s growing concern over problems at the VA. Problems similar to those that surfaced in Phoenix have since been reported in other states.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the hearing “needs to be a wake-up call for the department,” noting that outside reviews have outlined problems with wait times and quality of care for at least 14 years.
“It’s extremely disappointing that the department has repeatedly failed to address wait times for health care,” Murray said.
Murray told Shinseki she believes he takes the allegations seriously and wants to do the right thing, “but we have come to the point where we need more than good intentions.”