The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I write to reiterate my deep concern regarding the numerous, troubling reports that continue to surface regarding mistreatment of our nation's veterans at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities across the country. These reports indicate that incidents--including the withholding of life-saving care from some veterans--were the result of a culture of cover-ups, indifference as to the health and welfare of our veterans, and a complete lack of accountability that pervades your Department. Yet, the Administration's response to these troubling revelations has been lethargic and its inaction puzzling.
During your testimony before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Thursday, I call on you to provide direct, clear answers to these questions:
1. According to recent reports, you have ordered a "face-to-face audit" of all Department of Veterans Affairs clinics. Can you describe in detail how you intend for this audit to be conducted, its timeline for completion, and what measures are being taken to ensure these audits are conducted in an independent and transparent manner? If the allegations are substantiated, what type of action are you willing to take to right these wrongs, and how will the responsible officials be held accountable?
2. A whistleblower in Texas claims that during his time as a scheduling clerk for VA facilities in Austin, San Antonio, and Waco, he was directed by supervisors to hide true wait times by inputting false records into the VA's scheduling system. VA officials in San Antonio deny this, while VA officials in Austin claim employees may have been discouraged from using the electronic scheduling tool that would reveal long wait times, but that those orders did not come from "executive leadership." Can you confirm that supervisors at VA facilities in Texas have not and are not ordering employees to "game the system" by concealing wait times?
3. An Austin-based surgeon recently contacted my office to inform me he is not accepting any further subcontracts from the VA due to failures in patient care that he has personally witnessed. Specifically, he saw a veteran in August of 2013 who was referred to him by the VA after they detected a lesion they suspected was cancerous. Already two months had lapsed between the time they detected the lesion and the time he saw the veteran. This surgeon performed a biopsy and diagnosed it as laryngeal cancer. He informed the VA that the veteran needed immediate chemotherapy -- that they had a real chance to treat his cancer if they started chemotherapy right away. Almost two months later, he followed up on his case only to learn the VA never provided chemotherapy, with no good excuse as to why. The veteran died several days later. Can you confirm that veterans diagnosed with cancer of any kind that requires chemotherapy are provided that treatment in a timely manner by the VA?
4. A whistleblower in South Texas who formerly served as associate chief of staff for the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen, TX, told the Washington Examiner this week that roughly 15,000 patients who should have had the potentially life-saving colonoscopy procedure either did not receive it or were forced to wait longer than they should have. He also claims that approximately 1,800 records were purged to give the false appearance of eliminating a backlog. Can you confirm that veterans requiring colonoscopies to detect cancer are provided with the procedure in a timely manner?
5. In 2012, VA medical facilities in Central Texas reported that 96 percent of veterans were seen by providers within 14 days of their preferred appointment date. In the South Texas region that includes San Antonio, the statistics were even more impressive: 97 percent of veterans were seen within two weeks, according to annual performance reports. Can you produce documents that show the original dates of veterans' requests for appointments for 2012?
6. According to public records, the director of the Phoenix VA hospital, where news investigations have discovered at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care and languishing on secret lists, received more than $9,000 in bonus pay in 2013. Can you confirm that any bonuses or pay raises are on hold for senior leaders at VA facilities in San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Harlingen, and all VA facilities where similar allegations have been made?
7. My staff attended a Quarterly Congressional Staffer and Veterans Service Organization Representative Meeting at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System (CTVHS) Friday, May 9, 2014. Sallie Houser-Hanfelder, director of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, told meeting attendees that, as part of the face-to-face audits you have ordered, a quality systems manager from CTVHS would be sent to another VA facility to assist with investigations there. Can you confirm that staff at facilities currently under investigation for allegations of falsified reports will not be assigned to investigate other VA facilities?
8. A former VA employee at the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center told the Daily Caller that employees at the Center destroyed veterans' medical files in a systematic attempt to eliminate backlogged veteran medical exam requests. The former employee said, "The waiting list counts against the hospital's efficiency. He said the chief of the Center's Radiology Department initiated an "ongoing discussion in the department" to cancel exam requests and destroy veterans' medical files so that no record of the exam requests would exist, thus artificially reducing the backlog. In addition, you have been subpoenaed by the House Veterans Affairs Committee over concerns by Chairman Jeff Miller that evidence in Phoenix may have been destroyed after the Committee issued a document-preservation order on April
9. A top VA official testified on April 24 that a spreadsheet of patient appointment records, which may have been a "secret list" proving misconduct, was shredded or discarded. Can you confirm that documents are being preserved at all Texas VA facilities?
I look forward to your prompt and detailed responses to these pressing questions.