LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — A Southern California lawmaker said Friday she has “grave concerns” about the state of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals following the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki over systemic problems plaguing the veterans’ health care system.
An investigation by the Office of Inspector General is underway at 26 VA facilities after at least 40 former U.S. service members died while awaiting treatment at a VA facility in Phoenix.
A scathing internal report released on Wednesday found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
The report prompted loud calls for Shinseki to resign from congressional Republicans and Democrats, including from Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village), who told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that she’s asked for an audit into the VA hospital in West Los Angeles.
“We want to know what is going on in West Los Angeles, and obviously that is very important to my veterans in Ventura County, and we want to get to the bottom of it,” Brownley said. “I have grave concerns that it could be happening in West LA.”
President Barack Obama says he accepted Shinseki’s resignation with “considerable regret” following an Oval Office meeting between the two on Friday morning.
Brownley later issued a statement lauding the move: “Yesterday, I called for the resignation of Secretary Shinseki, and I’m pleased that he offered his resignation this morning, and that the President accepted it. While Secretary Shinseki has made real progress at the VA on several fronts, the preliminary IG report and the VA’s own audit make it clear that the systemic problems are wide-sweeping and inexcusable.”
In a speech Friday, Shinseki said that the findings of the report were “totally unacceptable” and a “breach of trust” that he found irresponsible and indefensible. He announced a series of steps, including the ouster of senior officials at the troubled Phoenix health care facility, the initial focus on the investigation.
“I can’t explain the lack of integrity,” he told a homeless veterans group. “I will not defend it because it is not defensible.”
Wait times at hospitals in California can be as long as 90 days, and some patients wait up to eight months to see a specialist at Los Angeles or Long Beach hospitals, mirroring national trends, according to the Orange County Register.
About 1,700 veterans nationwide in need of care were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” after being kept off an official waiting list, according to the inspector general’s report.
The report confirmed earlier allegations of excessive waiting times for care in Phoenix, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the waiting list — nearly five times as long as the 24-day average the hospital had reported.
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