Add U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney to the list of Florida politicians taking aim at the Veterans Administration.
After a series of stories and an editorial in The Tribune about deaths and injuries at VA hospitals as the result of delays in care, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, then Gov. Rick Scott began looking into the matter.
And of course, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller is the chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee, which has been looking into the issue of deaths caused by delay - which came to light after CNN reported on an internal VA investigation - since last year.
Officials at the Sunshine Healthcare Network, which represents Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have told me that the situation in Phoenix, in which “at least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list,” according to CNN, does not exist in Florida.
Rooney today wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for a criminal investigation into delays around the country.
Dear Mr. Attorney General:
Recent reports have revealed that at least 40 American veterans died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital after being placed on a “secret waiting list.” To hide the fact that they were forcing 1,400-1,600 sick veterans to wait months to see a doctor, Phoenix VA managers kept two lists: an official list sent to Washington that alleged progress in providing timely appointments, and a secret one that revealed actual wait times of more than a year.
Unfortunately, it appears that this was not an isolated case. The House Veterans Affairs Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Jeff Miller (FL-01) has launched an investigation and already uncovered dozens of recent, preventable deaths at VA medical centers across the country.
I have heard from veterans in my own district who have been forced to wait months for treatment that all too often arrives too late. One veteran in my district waited months for an appointment, and by the time he finally saw a doctor, his cancer had progressed to Stage 4. Another was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but his treatment was delayed for five months before he contacted my office and we intervened on his behalf.
Make no mistake – for these veterans, treatment delayed is treatment denied, and the consequences have proved fatal. Any incident of a veteran dying after being denied care by the VA is unacceptable. The fact that this policy of “delay, deny, and obfuscate” appears to be widespread and systemic is truly shameful, and those responsible must be held accountable – including through possible criminal prosecutions.
Because these cases involve individuals working in their capacity as federal employees, and these incidents have occurred at federal facilities throughout the nation, I urge you to work with the state Attorneys General in Arizona and across the country to investigate these preventable deaths thoroughly, determine appropriate criminal charges, and prosecute the offenders accordingly.
As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and a former prosecutor myself, I will continuing working to ensure that both the Justice Department and the VA have the tools and resources to hold these individuals responsible for the deaths of American veterans that occurred due to their negligence and deliberate denial of care.
Thomas J. Rooney