May 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Study finds delays 'systemic' in VA care

Washington— Inappropriate scheduling practices are “systemic” at veterans’ hospitals across the United States, including one in Phoenix that hid waiting times averaging 115 days, said the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general.

The report released Wednesday shows 1,700 veterans were awaiting care at a Phoenix VA hospital, though they weren’t included on the appropriate electronic waiting list. The official list showed that veterans waited just 24 days for their first primary care appointment.

The report prompted Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to immediately call for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Miller also said Attorney General Eric Holder should launch a criminal investigation into the VA.

“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 151 hospitals and more than 800 clinics.

Griffin said 42 centers are under investigation, up from 26.

Shinseki called the IG’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.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Montana Sen. John Walsh on Wednesday became the first Democratic senators to call for Shinseki to leave.

“We need new leadership who will demand accountability to fix these problems,” Udall said in a statement.

Reports that VA employees have been “cooking the books” have exploded since allegations arose that as many as 40 patients may have died at the Phoenix VA hospital while awaiting care. Griffin said he’s found no evidence so far that any of those deaths were caused by delays.

Associated Press contributed.