U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, wants to see VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appear at a committee field hearing he is planning to hold in the Tampa area.
“It would be nice of him to come down,” said Miller, speaking at a press conference with Gov. Rich Scott Friday afternoon. “I believe Secretary Shinseki wants to do the right thing, but I fear he is not being told the truth by his subordinates.”
VA officials did not immediately respond late Friday afternoon.
The press conference, at American Legion Post 139, was part of an on-going election year push to get more information from the VA.
Scott, spurred by stories and an editorial in the Tribune about deaths and injuries at VA facilities as the result of treatment delays, called for greater transparency, as well as answers to questions about exactly when the deaths and injuries took place and whether anyone has been disciplined as a result,
At the press conference, Miller cited a litany of problems at VA facilities around the country, including a situation in Arizona uncovered by CNN, which reported that “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.”
Miller said he did not know if that situation exists in Florida.
“Again, it would be nice if we had complete confidence in the answers VA is providing us,” said Miller. “Right now, we have been a little shaken by the fact that they keep denying things that we keep uncovering.”
Mary Kay Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, said “there is no indication any of those practices were used in Florida.”
She added that she does not immediately know if anyone was disciplined as a result of the three deaths and nine injuries that took place in the Sunshine Healthcare Network, which covers Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as the result of delayed colon cancer treatments between 2010 and 2012, or even if any discipline is warranted.
No deaths took place at either the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital or the C.W. “Bill” Young VA Medical Center, but there were two Young center patients and one Haley patient injured as the result of the delays, according to the VA, which has not provided information about who those patients were or exactly when they died.
Shortly after the Tribune reported on the deaths and injuries, Scott ordered inspectors from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration to visit VA medical facilities, including Haley in Tampa and the Young center in Bay Pines.
VA officials turned the inspectors away, citing “federal guidelines and Privacy Act considerations,” according to Hollingsworth.
Robert L. Jesse, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, for the Veterans Health Administration spoke to AHCA Secretary Elizabeth Dudek, twice since April 18, sharing “extensive and voluntary external reviews that VA routinely engages,” said Hollingsworth. In addition, on Friday, the VA provided AHCA with much of the information about risk management practices AHCA is seeking. Scott, at the press conference, said he was not aware of that, adding he and AHCA officials would review the information.
In November, AHCA officials, citing privacy concerns, pulled inspection records of state hospitals off its website, according to spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman.
“These reports are still available through our public records office after removal of any potentially identifying information,” she said. “We have also identified another source for hospital inspection reports at: http://www.hospitalinspections.org/.”