FBI Director James Comey told the House Judiciary Committee that the FBI has begun a criminal probe of the VA hospital scandal, led out of the Phoenix field office where the shocking discovery of an effective veterans death list first surfaced in the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.
“We’ll follow it wherever the facts take us,” Comey said, declining to discuss it further.
Richard Simon reports for the Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2014, that the VA inspector general has been working with the Justice Department, but lawmakers from both parties have pressed for the FBI to play a bigger role in the investigation.
Their sense of urgency was prompted by two reports showing that the problem is not exclusive to the Phoenix VA hospital, but widespread across America:
- A report by the inspector general of the Veterans Administration found a systemic nationwide problem in scheduling veterans’ care in a timely manner, including staff falsifying records to cover up long waits.
- An audit by the Veterans Administration found more than 57,000 veterans have waited at least three months for appointments.
Yesterday, June 11, 2014, by a vote of 93 to 3, the U.S. Senate broke through the usual partisan gridlock to swiftly approve legislation aimed at reducing veterans’ long waits for healthcare.
The 101-page compromise Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (Title III of S. 2450) was written and approved with unusual speed, a reflection of the political importance to both parties of the nearly 6.5 million veterans who use VA’s 1,700 hospitals and clinics.
The bill would:
- Allow veterans facing long waits at VA facilities to seek care from private doctors
- Expand the VA secretary’s authority to fire staff for poor performance
- Authorize the department to lease 26 new health facilities in 17 states, including California and Puerto Rico.
- Provide $500 million for expedited hiring of new VA doctors and nurses.
Reporting for the Chicago Tribune, Richard Simon noted that a House bill approved Tuesday, H.R. 3230, would eliminate VA bonuses for fiscal 2014 through 2016, while the Senate bill, S. 2450, would eliminate the use of waiting times for determining employee bonuses.
The Senate bill also would extend college education benefits to spouses of service members killed in the line of duty, guarantee in-state tuition for veterans at public colleges and universities and improve access to healthcare for military sexual assault victims.