A Veterans Affairs Department decision to appoint as head of a Southwest regional health network an official who allegedly gave false testimony to Congress about appointment wait times has drawn the ire of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who says “veterans in my state deserve better than to have a director who misled Congress about patient wait times or understated the severity of the VA’s failures.”
McCain made known his objection to Dr. Skye McDougall’s selection to head the regional network that includes the VA Medical Center in Phoenix in a letter Wednesday to VA Secretary Bob McDonald.
“I believe that this selection does nothing to regain veterans’ confidence that the VA has been reformed in the aftermath of the tragic scandal during which veterans died waiting for care while senior VA executives collected monetary bonuses,” McCain wrote.
The VA declined to comment on the letter beyond saying it would respond to McCain’s office.
The Phoenix VA hospital was ground zero to the patient wait-times scandal that rocked the department last year and led to the resignation McDonald’s predecessor, Eric Shinseki.
Whistleblowers reported the hospital maintained a secret list of veterans seeking appointments, which it kept separate from the official list in order to conceal the scope of the hospital’s inability to meet demand. Subsequent investigation by the VA’s Inspector General’s office determined the ploy was systemic across VA.
The IG also concluded that delays in getting care contributed to the deaths of some veterans.
McDougall is the chief medical officer and acting director of the VA’s Desert Pacific Healthcare Network, which includes the VA’s Greater Los Angeles Medical System. She is slated to take over the Southwest region during the first week of November.
In testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Feb. 10, 2015, McDougall said the “average wait time for a new patient [at the L.A. system] right now is about four days.”
But data and whistleblower information reported by CNN in March indicated that the average wait time for a new patient there was 48 days, with some veterans waiting six months to be seen.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, asked the VA Office of the Inspector General in July to investigate the discrepancy between her testimony and the CNN report.
The VA denies her testimony was false, and said the discrepancy in wait times is the result of the VA appointment system registering a “create date” when an appointment is made as well as a “preferred date” given by the veteran.
“The create date and the preferred date could be the same, but usually they are not the same,” the VA said. The VA measures both dates.
McCain, in his letter to McDonald, said that with the VA still trying to regain the trust of veterans following the wait-times scandal, as well as “its own employees who have lost faith in the integrity of their senior leaders, I urge you to reconsider [McDougall’s] selection.”
Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.