The new interim chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reportedly ordered employees in 2014 not to disclose information about secret wait lists to members of Congress.
The VA released a statement Friday listing Vivieca Wright-Simpson as the interim chief of staff effective Sunday. Wright-Simpson has filled numerous senior roles in the department, played an important part in transforming the Veterans Health Administration and is a “trusted leader with a commitment for serving Veterans,” according to the press release.
What the press release neglected to mention, however, is that Wright-Simpson was instrumental in blocking an investigation initiated by two Pennsylvanian congressmen, who wanted to know more about veterans waiting years for health care appointments at the Pittsburgh VA.
According to a 2014 report by CNN, GOP Rep. Tim Murphy and Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle felt like the VA was running interference to prevent them from getting answers to their queries on wait lists.
In the midst of the 2014 wait list crisis, Murphy received a call from the Pittsburgh VA deputy director David Cord, who assured him that the facility had passed an audit with “flying colors.”
Murphy didn’t believe Cord and decided to get in touch with Doyle, who said that he heard a completely different story from Pittsburgh Healthcare System Director Terry Gerigk Wolf.
It turns out that Wolf had told Doyle that were as many as 700 veterans on a wait list. Several of these veterans languishing on the list had been waiting years for an initial appointment.
Wolf added that she knew about the list for at least three weeks but was instructed by Veterans Integrated Service Network 4 Director Gary Devansky not to discuss the matter with members of Congress. She was afraid of being fired for disclosing the information.
Devansky received his instructions from none other than Vivieca Wright-Simpson, who at the time served as VHA director of network support.
Then-chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Rep. Jeff Miller blasted the VA for trying to hide suppress the wait list investigation.
“Interfering with Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight responsibility is not just wrong, it’s against the law,” Miller said. “Right now acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson needs to immediately send a clear and powerful message that criminal behavior will not be tolerated within VA’s ranks. The only way to do this is by immediately firing anyone who directed VA officials not to speak with members of Congress.”
However, the VA told TheDCNF that Wright-Simpson simply wanted to make sure the information provided to members of Congress was accurate.
“In June 2014, Ms. Vivieca Wright-Simpson, then-Veterans Health Administration Director of Network Support, acted to ensure correct information was provided to Congress,” acting deputy assistant secretary for the VA public affairs James Hutton told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Some information required validation and, as a result, delivery to Congress had to be briefly delayed for the validation of the information to be completed. Once the information was validated it was delivered.”
“She remains a dedicated public servant focused on modernizing VA and implementing change in order for our Veterans to get the care and benefits they deserve,” Hutton added.
Part of the reason members of Congress were likely suspicious about VA assurances is because the Pittsburgh VA had suffered from outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease in the past in 2011 and 2012, which resulted in the deaths of at least six veterans. The VA did not warn patients about the prospect of Legionnaire’s Disease, despite knowing for more than a year that it had an outbreak on its hands. Although VA officials tried to tell members of Congress that the issue was equipment-related, internal memos and emails reported on by CBS revealed that employees knew human error was responsible.
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