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VA investigating Florida hospital wait lists

By Patricia DiCarlo and Scott Bronstein, CNN
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 3 members of the Gainesville, Florida, VA's supervisory staff have been placed on paid leave
  • The federal department is defending itself against claims of potentially deadly delays
  • CNN exclusively reported veterans dying while on wait list in Phoenix

(CNN) -- An audit team sent to the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, discovered a list of patients needing follow-up appointments that was kept on paper instead of in the VA's electronic computer system.

As a result, the VA's Office of Inspector General has opened an investigation and three members of the Gainesville VA's supervisory staff have been placed on paid leave, pending the outcome of an investigation, VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8) spokeswoman Mary Kay Hollingsworth said Monday.

The latest allegation comes as the Department of Veterans Affairs defends itself against claims of potentially deadly delays at other facilities nationwide.

For six months, CNN has been reporting on delays in medical appointments suffered by veterans across the country and veterans who died or were seriously injured while waiting for appointments and care.

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The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 to 30 days.

The most disturbing and striking problems emerged in Arizona last month as inside sources revealed to CNN details of a secret waiting list for veterans at the Phoenix VA. Charges were leveled that at least 40 American veterans died in Phoenix while waiting for care at the VA there, many of whom were placed on the secret list.

But even as the Phoenix VA's problems have riveted the nation's attention, numerous whistle-blowers from other VA hospitals across the country have stepped forward.

They described similar delays in care for veterans and also varying schemes by officials at those facilities to hide the delays -- in some cases even falsify records or efforts to "cook the books."

The secret waiting list in Phoenix was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers there who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources who spoke exclusively to CNN.

Phoenix VA officials denied any knowledge of a secret list, and said they never ordered any staff to hide waiting times. They acknowledged some veterans may have died waiting for care there, but they said they did not have knowledge about why those veterans might have died.

CNN has submitted numerous requests for an interview with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki; the secretary has refused them all.

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CNN's Chelsea J. Carter, Greg Seaby and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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