By MATTHEW DALY and DONNA CASSATA
2014-05-29 09:01 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A scathing new report issued Wednesday on the medical care of America's veterans is adding to pressure for Obama to replace the Cabinet official overseeing Veterans Affairs.
The investigation, initially focused on one hospital in Arizona, found systemic problems in the VA's sprawling nationwide system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans each year.
The report increases pressure on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign and has become a major issue in Washington, with bipartisan outrage over the treatment of Veterans.
The issue has the potential to become a headache for Democrats ahead of the November congressional elections
Three Senate Democrats facing tough re-election contests -- Colorado's Mark Udall, Montana's John Walsh and Kay Hagan of North Carolina -- called for Shinseki to leave.
The interim report confirmed allegations of excessive waiting time for care in Arizona, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the waiting list and that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the official waiting list at the troubled Arizona veterans hospital.
"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" VA health facilities nationwide, including 151 hospitals and more than 800 clinics.
Shinseki called the IG's findings "reprehensible to me, to this department and to veterans."
Reports problems at the VA have exploded since allegations arose that as many as 40 patients may have died at the Arizona hospital while awaiting care. Griffin said he's found no evidence so far that any of those deaths were caused by delays.
The IG's report said problems identified by investigators were not new. The IG's office has issued 18 reports to George W. Bush and Obama administrations as well as Congress since 2005.
Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard and Pauline Jelinek in Washington, and Brian Skoloff in Phoenix contributed to this report.