Lawmaker: Congress Must Investigate VA Inspector General's Work

In this July 31, 2015, photo, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth appears before the Chicago City Council's finance committee in Chicago. M. Spencer Green/AP
In this July 31, 2015, photo, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth appears before the Chicago City Council's finance committee in Chicago. M. Spencer Green/AP

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois and disabled veteran, wants Congress to investigate allegations that the Veterans Affairs Department's inspector general's office has kept reports on the wait-times scandal under wraps.

"After the abhorrent wait-time abuses that took place in [VA hospitals] across the country, it is absolutely vital that we carefully study the misconduct and act on lessons learned to ensure we never repeat such disgraceful mistakes," Duckworth said in a letter Thursday to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"However, Congress cannot achieve this important mission if the VA OIG continues to evade transparency and withhold important findings," she said.

Duckworth, a medically retired Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs after being shot down in Iraq, has asked Chaffetz to schedule an investigative hearing "as quickly as possible."

Her call for hearings into the matter follows an article Wednesday in USA Today that the VA's inspector general's office has yet to release all of its reports on 73 VA medical centers it looked into because of the wait-times scandal. The paper reported that the IG found scheduling issues in 51 cases.

The wait-times scandal came to light in 2014 when whistleblowers at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix reported that up to 40 veterans placed on a secret appointments wait list died before getting care.

Officials in Phoenix maintained the unofficial list to conceal the fact they were unable to meet the demands of veterans seeking care within the wait times set by the VA.

The VA's subsequent investigation found that unofficial wait lists and delays to care were systemic across the department. The IG's office concluded that up to 35 people seeking care through the Phoenix facility died, but initially stated their deaths were not caused by delays. The IG's office later backpedaled and said delays likely contributed to the deaths of some veterans.

Last June, Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin retired from the department even as demands grew for his dismissal. Three months later, several whistleblowers testifying before Congress criticized the IG, with one calling its work "half-assed and shoddy."

"The IG works with the VA to whitewash problems and hide them," said Shea Wilkes, whose complaints of cronyism and corruption at the VA Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, nearly cost him his job.

The VA was investigating more than 100 facilities as of September 2014, according to VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who had been named to the top job just two months earlier following the resignation of Eric Shinseki.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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