IG: Phoenix VA hospital missed care for 1,700 vets

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Vicky Olson wipes away a tear May 9, 2014 while talking about her husband, Michael Olson, a Marine veteran who died at home in their garage in March at age 45. Vicky holds their wedding photograph , as well as a United States flag given to her at a memorial service for Michael. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Tom Tingle)

Vicky Olson wipes away a tear May 9, 2014 while talking about her husband, Michael Olson, a Marine veteran who died at home in their garage in March at age 45. Vicky holds their wedding photograph , as well as a United States flag given to her at a memorial service for Michael. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Tom Tingle)

Vicky Olson of Phoenix, cries after speaking about her husband, Michael Olson, a patient of the Phoenix VA Health Care System who died in March of 2014, as U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (left) holds the mic during an open forum discussing the recent allegations of gross mismanagement and neglect at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix on Friday, May 9, 2014. (Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic)

Vicky Olson of Phoenix, cries May 9, 2014 after speaking about her husband, Michael Olson, a patient of the Phoenix VA Health Care System who died in March of 2014 (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Tom Tingle)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) addresses members of the media at McCain’s Phoenix office on Wednesday, May 28, 2014, following the release of a report stating that at least 1,700 veterans at the Phoenix veterans hospital were not registered on the proper waiting list, putting them at risk in the convoluted scheduling process. McCain called for the resignation or dismissal of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki . (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Charlie Leight) MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES

Dr. Thomas Lynch, the assistant deputy under secretary for health for clinical operations at the Veterans Health Administration, testifies as the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hears about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Navy veteran Ken Senft turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs for medical care in 2011 after his private insurance grew too costly. It could have been a fatal mistake, he now says.

A few years ago, the 65-year-old had a lesion on his head. He went to a VA clinic near his home outside Phoenix, but he said the doctor told him it could be two years before he might get an appointment with a dermatologist.

So he paid out of pocket to see a private physician. Turns out, he had cancer.

“What if I had waited two years?” Senft said in frustration. “I might be dead.”

Senft’s story comes amid allegations of delayed care and misconduct at VA facilities across the nation.

A probe of operations at the Phoenix VA Health Care System found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” after being kept off an official waiting list. The investigation, initially focused on the Phoenix hospital, found systemic problems in the VA’s sprawling nationwide system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.

The scathing report by the VA Office of Inspector General released Wednesday increased pressure on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

The interim findings confirmed allegations of excessive delayed care in Phoenix, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the waiting list. That’s nearly five times longer than the Phoenix hospital system had reported to national VA administrators.

“While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility,” Richard J. Griffin, the department’s acting inspector general, wrote in the 35-page report. It found that “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout” some 1,700 VA health facilities nationwide, including 150 hospitals and more than 800 clinics.

Griffin said 42 centers are now under investigation.

“What makes me angry is the fact that there are a lot of veterans who couldn’t afford to do what I did, and it would have been too late for them,” said Senft, who was wounded during the Vietnam War. “It’s just a disappointment when you serve your country and you expect to get good medical care — and you just don’t.”

Several Republican lawmakers and a handful of Democrats have called for Shinseki’s resignation.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also have called for criminal probes.

“I believe that this issue has reached a level that requires the Justice Department involvement. These allegations are not just administrative problems. These are criminal problems,” McCain said at a news conference.

Miller said the report confirmed that “wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout VA and are putting veterans at risk in Phoenix and across the country.”

Dr. Samuel Foote, a former clinic director for the VA in Phoenix who was the first to bring the allegations to light, said the findings were no surprise.

“I knew about all of this all along,” Foote told The Associated Press. “The only thing I can say is you can’t celebrate the fact that vets were being denied care.”

Still, Foote said it is good that the VA finally appears to be addressing long-standing problems.

“Everybody has been gaming the system for a long time,” he said. “Phoenix just took it to another level. … The magnitude of the problem nationwide is just so huge, so it’s hard for most people to get a grasp on it.”

Shinseki called the Inspector General’s findings “reprehensible to me, to this department and to veterans.” He said he was directing the Phoenix VA to immediately address each of the 1,700 veterans waiting for appointments. The

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