House lawmakers have voted to subpoena three Department of Veterans Affairs officials who were no-shows for a Thursday morning meeting called to discuss destruction of a secret patient waiting list at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.
Up to 40 veterans on the list may have died before they got to see a doctor, according to reports first broadcast by CNN.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the subpoena is a response to the VA routinely ignoring committee requests to meet with certain officials and to provide information.
"I am tired of sending notices to the [VA] and asking for witnesses and being told by VA you don't need that witness. Here is the witness we want to send," Miller said.
Under the subpoena motion introduced by ranking committee member Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, the legal demand for the three to appear on May 30 will be dropped if they show up for a meeting set for May 28.
The committee is demanding to meet with Dr. Thomas Lynch, assistant under secretary for clinical operations, Joan Mooney, an assistant deputy secretary for congressional affairs, and Michael Huff, a congressional relations officer with Mooney's department.
Miller said today that VA informed him that Lynch was on his way to Phoenix as part of the department's investigation into the secret wait list. Since the first report of the list in April, similar allegations have been leveled against 25 other VA hospitals and clinics.
Thursday's witness subpoena follows one the committee issued May 8 for records. Miller said the VA has failed to adequately respond.
"Now they're telling us ... they will send us information they want to send, in the order they want to send it," he said.
A little more than six hours before the 9 a.m. meeting the VA sent about 3,000 emails to the committee, according to Miller.
"We're going to go through them and get the information we need. Quickly," he said.
Michaud said he shared Miller's frustration.
"Our initial request was very simple," he said. "If there was a separate waiting list, why and when did they destroy it? That [question] led to this meeting."
Michaud said Democrats and Republican on the committee have grown frustrated with the VA's failure to respond to requests for information.
"It does not do anyone any good to have this process politicized, particularly our veterans and the veterans service organizations," he said. "I do not think we should be dragging them in to defend one side or the other."
While veterans groups have all expressed outrage at the allegations of secret wait lists and manipulated appointment schedules, The American Legion and Concerned Veterans for America have demanded the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Many of Shinseki's critics thought they would get that on Wednesday after the VA boss met at the White House with President Obama. But when the meeting ended Obama stepped into the press room to reiterate his support for Shinseki.
Miller has not called for Shinseki's resignation, maintaining the VA chief is a good man who has been misled and undermined by subordinates.
During Thursday's meeting, only Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Fla., offered any defense of VA operations.
"I feel 100 percent we have to do all we can to make sure our veterans are taken care of," she said. "In 99 percent of the cases the [VA] system is working. I've been on this committee for 22 years and this has been a problem for 22 years. It didn't matter who was in charge."
"I concur with your statements," Miller said. "It has been a problem for years, and we would be derelict in our duty if we allowed it to continue ... Regardless of what administration is in office, that doesn't allow our veterans to stand in line to get the benefits that t hey in fact have earned."
Both House and Senate veterans committees have held hearings related to problems at the VA, though Miller's panel has been more aggressive and for a much longer time than the committee led by his counterpart, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Over the past three years Miller's committee has regularly held hearings on the disability claims backlog, the VA's policy of awarding bonuses to senior executives even when the facilities they manage are linked to preventable deaths, and long wait times for appointments.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org