TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An official with the Veterans Affairs medical center in Wichita said Wednesday that 385 veterans appeared on an unauthorized list of those waiting for care.
Diane Henderson, executive secretary of the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center, gave the total number of veterans waiting for care at the hospital a day after VA letters revealed the existence of secretive wait lists, which concealed the actual wait times for veterans, at facilities across the Midwest.
Henderson said an unknown number of the 385 veterans waited longer than 90 days for treatment. She said they were a separate group from the at least nine who were identified as having waited that long in the two letters sent last week to Kansas’ two U.S. senators.
The letters gave the first site-specific details of how the scandal of delayed care and unauthorized wait lists at the Department of Veterans Affairs was not isolated to a health care campus in Arizona. The scandal led to the resignation last week of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The VA is conducting a system-wide investigation after it was found that the Phoenix VA Health Care System had about 1,700 veterans in need of care on secret waiting lists, and another that had 1,400 waited over 90 days for primary care appointments.
Kansas U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said he was concerned that the issue of a Kansas secret waiting lists would surface as the investigation evolved. He suggested the lists were a byproduct of a culture in the VA’s bureaucracy.
“They appear to be too concerned about getting along and advancing in the VA, which one criteria is the wait lists,” Moran said. “A list of one veteran who is delayed or denied access is problem. This is a terrible circumstance that the VA has put American veterans in.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs maintained 10 “secret waiting lists” of military veterans in need of care at facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, the letters said. They also said at least 96 veterans waited more than 90 days for treatment at seven facilities in those states, including 26 in St. Louis and 19 in Columbia, Missouri.
The letters said that eight of the 10 lists “served to complement authorized lists to more fully support Veteran care and access.” But the two other lists, including one at the Wichita facility, “placed Veterans at risk.”
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts sent letters Wednesday to the Wichita VA director and the VA’s Office of Inspector General seeking more answers about the lists. He noted that one of the letters he received from the VA on Friday said 21 veterans waited longer for 90 days for care in Wichita; a second letter put that total at nine. Roberts said he had earlier been assured by VA officials there were no such problems at the hospital.
On Wednesday, Henderson told The Associated Press that nine was the correct official figure but declined to say how many more who waited at least 90 days were on the unauthorized list of 385. An investigation is underway to determine how long the secret list was maintained at the Wichita facility and how veterans were placed on the list.
“Lack of employee training and understanding of the VA procedures and standards led to the creation of the unauthorized wait list,” Henderson wrote in an email. “We are conducting training classes for those employees so that they will better understand how to use the electronic wait list system. Also, all Veterans on that list have been contacted so that we can guarantee they receive the services they deserve.”
Cliff Dillard, a Colwich veteran, said in the past year had waited more than 15 months to get in to the Wichita VA to get his feet treated before resorting to a primary care physician outside the VA system. He said the issue wasn’t the quality of the care he received or more money for VA but where it was being spent.
“The problem is in logistics and administration,” said Dillard, 77. “I speculate that they spent the money on construction and not health care for the veterans. There will be some good that comes out of this. It can’t be any worse.”