The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Veterans Affairs briefed congressional staff with numbers on veteran deaths in Phoenix that were much higher than the ones included in the official OIG report.
New evidence obtained by The Daily Caller further discredits a widely-publicized OIG report which stated that no conclusive evidence can prove that exam delays from secret waiting lists at the Phoenix VA Medical Center caused veteran deaths. VA leaked the somewhat-favorable OIG report to the press before it was published.
But OIG staff did a veritable 180-degree turn at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday. Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections Scott Daigh admitted that he could not conclusively assert that wait lists did not contribute to veteran deaths, that he did not include that information in the OIG report, and that secret wait lists did, in fact, contribute to veteran deaths. OIG also admitted that it did not review all veteran case files to look for instances of delayed care resulting in death.
“We don’t know how they died or why. Nor do you,” VA Acting Inspector General Richard J. Griffin snapped at Rep. Mike Coffman during one divisive point in the hearing.
Prior to the hearing, OIG briefed congressional staff with numbers on veteran deaths that differed significantly from the ones presented in the report.
OIG slides shown to Capitol Hill staff, obtained by TheDC, showed that 293 Phoenix-area veterans died while awaiting care on official and unofficial lists. But the OIG report said merely that “up to 40” veterans may have died, and did not mention any deaths beyond 40.
The slides also report that 44 patients died while on the VA’s electronic waiting list (EWL).
But the OIG report only mentioned 40 EWL deaths at Phoenix, identifying the patients as those “who died while on the EWL during the period April 2013 through April 2014.”
Members of the VA whistleblower community have long doubted the OIG’s impartiality in its oversight of the VA system. The OIG’s discrepancy in numbers casts further doubt on the office.
“We understand from today’s hearing that VA’s Office of Inspector General issued its Phoenix report without looking at all the records of patients on the wait lists,” said American Legion National Commander Michael D. Helm. “We also understand that some VA witnesses will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid responsibility for the untimely deaths of veterans. Comments such as the one made by VA’s assistant inspector general, John Daigh – ‘It’s very difficult to know why somebody actually died. I’m not clairvoyant.’ — do not inspire confidence in VA’s capability to investigate itself. As I’ve said before, the Phoenix scandal needs to be scrutinized by an authority that is not obsessed with avoiding responsibility.”
VA did not return a request for comment for this report.
View the documents:
Briefing–Review of Alleged Patient Deaths Patient Wait Times and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System August 26 2014