U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki on Thursday placed Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman and two others on administrative leave amid allegations that up to 40 veterans died white waiting for medical appointmentsand that prolonged patient waits were purposely hidden.
Shinseki, in a statement from his office, called the allegations serious and said Helman, Associate Director Lance Robinson and a third employee who wasn’t identified were placed on leave based on the request of the independent VA Office of Inspector General.
Shinseki said the VA leaders were removed indefinitely to allow the Inspector General’s Office, which has been investigating since at least December, to conduct a thorough and timely review.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: More on Phoenix VA health-care investigation
“Providing veterans the quality care and benefits they have earned through their service is our only mission at the Department of Veterans Affairs. We care deeply for every veteran we are privileged to serve,” Shinseki said. “We believe it is important to allow an independent, objective review to proceed. These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and if the inspector general’s investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken.”
Helman said in a written statement that she respected Shinseki’s decision and was “fully supportive of any decision that ensures we have a thorough review by the Office of the Inspector General.”
Shinseki’s decision came just one day after Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, testified before Congress that an initial review of operations in Phoenix found no evidence verifying whistle-blower allegations that Arizona patients died awaiting VA care, or that records of delayed medical appointments were falsified.
Tony Bruno, a 68-year-old Valley veteran who has waited more than a year to see a VA neurosurgeon for back pain, called Shinseki’s decision a “damn good idea.”
“Maybe they can get someone in there who knows what the hell they are doing, and do it right,” said Bruno, who now lives in Litchfield Park and served as a Marine during the Vietnam War.
Earlier Thursday, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who last month disclosed the Phoenix VA allegations as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, expressed concerns in a letter to Shinseki about documents being destroyed.
Miller noted that he issued a preservation order on April9, and complained that it was not passed on to VA employees until eight days later.
He also noted that a top VA official confirmed during an April24 briefing with congressional staff that a spreadsheet that may have been construed by whistle-blowers as the “secret list” used to falsify patient access data had been destroyed. He said officials at VA headquarters had not responded to repeated requests for additional information.
Miller asked Shinseki why the list existed, why it was destroyed, who ordered its destruction, and other questions.
“If (the) VA does not immediately and fully respond to my requests,” Miller concluded, “I will not hesitate to convene an emergency meeting of the committee to formally subpoena all requested information.”
Three workers on leave
Helman has presided over the Phoenix VA Health Care System, with a budget of over $500million, for the past two years.
The system, with a Phoenix hospital and six Arizona satellite clinics, was rated nationally as one of America’s top-
Helman previously served as director of the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago and the Spokane VA
During 20years with the Department of Veterans Affairs, she has earned a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, the VA Secretary’s Hero Award and other honors, according to an agency biography.
Robinson also has nearly two decades with the VA.
He has been associate director in Phoenix for two years, responsible for health administration, human resources and information resources management.
A third Phoenix VA employee, who also was placed on leave, has not been named because agency officials believe under federal privacy law they may only identify executive officers.
Shinseki’s action comes after three Arizona congressmen this week called for the removal or resignation of Helman and her top administrators.
Those calls came in the wake of allegations made by retired VA physician Sam Foote and other agency whistle-blowers that patients were dying awaiting medical appointments and that fraudulent records had been created to hide wait times.
Foote, who recently retired and was the first to publicly blow the whistle on alleged misconduct in Phoenix, said the administrative suspensions were “highly appropriate.”
Foote said the Phoenix hospital has hundreds of great employees who work with 78,000 “wonderful patients.”
“I wish we never had to do this,” he said. “If they (VA officials) had just come in the first place and really looked into this. … I hope we can rebuild and come back better than ever.”
U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., who led the call for Helman’s resignation, said Thursday he was pleased with Shinseki’s decision.
“For the system to operate well, there needs to be faith and trust in the leadership and staff,” Schweikert said in a statement from his office. “This announcement is a step in the right direction toward restoring that relationship between the PVAHCS and our veterans. … Our service men and women deserve the highest quality of care. While the mistakes made by the PVAHCS cannot be undone, I believe we can begin to heal the wounds and restore trust under new leadership.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who called for and will receive Senate hearings on the Phoenix VA controversy, called Shinseki’s decision appropriate.
“We must get to the truth of these allegations, and if they are validated, hold accountable anyone who would violate our solemn responsibility to provide the best quality of care for those who have served and sacrificed on our nation’s behalf,” McCain said.
- 'Flu is not a decease,' says Yogi Adityanath amid Swine flu claims nine lives in Uttar Pradesh
- VA Maryland Health Care System Invites Women to Continue Making History with VA
- Watchdog reviewing claims Trump's Veterans Affairs chief sought to discredit staffer who reported sexual assault
- Married devout Christian GP, 51, faces being struck off for sexual misconduct after he allegedly told a female patient 'I know this wrong but you're very hot - can I give you a hug?'
- Is the VA Being Privatized? This Koch-Backed Group Says It Just Wants 'Choice' but Veterans Aren't so Sure
- Veterans Affairs treating one coronavirus patient in California
- Thousands of intensive care patients will be tested for coronavirus over fears it's already spreading through the NHS as hospitals are told to see as many patients as possible through VIDEO calls
- Three MORE patients test positive for coronavirus after returning from infection hotspots: New cases in Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire bring UK total to 23 as Government ramps up response and tests pass 10,000 mark
- Hunt for Surrey's patient zero: Health officials desperately trying to track down coronavirus super-spreader believe he could be an acquaintance of infected GP's partner
- Westmoreland Co. Vet’s Death At W. Va. Medical Center Prompts Probe By Veterans Affairs Dept.
- NHS 111 call handlers are NOT asking patients with coronavirus symptoms if they have travelled to Asia and are just telling them to go to their GP, doctors warn
- Footage emerges claiming to show coronavirus body bags lined up in Iranian hospital - as country's first vice president 'is infected', illness affects 8% of MPs and 54,000 prisoners are released in bid to stop disease spreading
- FOURTEEN UK patients are tested for coronavirus: Suspected victims are taken into isolation after returning from Wuhan with flu-like symptoms as Health Secretary is urged to order checks on passengers on ALL flights from China
- Is Britain heading for a coronavirus lockdown? England sports fixtures are under threat, schools shut and workers sent home amid fear and confusion over dangers of travelling to and from Europe
- Family Of Westmoreland County Veteran Files Federal Tort Claims Act Following Stay At West Virginia VA Hospital
- China's 'oldest coronavirus patient', 98, recovers after having severe lung infection and heart failure
- Hubei chief orders health officials to recount coronavirus patients after hundreds of confirmed cases were REMOVED from the daily toll to create a sharp drop
- EXCLUSIVE: Barely able to leave the house, told they are exaggerating and even that their ailment does not exist: Three ME patients reveal their daily struggle with the crippling condition
- Trump White House Gives VA Head Permission to Purge 'Subversive' Staff, Shulkin Says
- Up to ONE HUNDRED health workers were exposed to the 'unknown origin' coronavirus patient who took four DAYS to diagnose - as it's revealed she came into contact with three students who are now in self-quarantine
Phoenix VA chief put on leave amid patient-care claims have 1436 words, post on www.usatoday.com at May 1, 2014. This is cached page on TechNews. If you want remove this page, please contact us.