Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Doctor: Phoenix VA ignores mandate to prioritize Iraq, Afghanistan vets

By Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 10:26 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Katherine Mitchell says injured war veterans can wait up to 10 months to be seen
  • "We're talking about people that were injured by being blown up by IEDs," she says
  • Mitchell says she reported alleged practice to the VA's Office of Inspector General
  • The VA did not directly comment, referring CNN to Eric Shinseki's Senate testimony

Phoenix (CNN) -- Some veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made to wait for months in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System despite a national mandate they be given priority access to medical care, a VA doctor told CNN.

Dr. Katherine Mitchell, medical director of the Phoenix VA's post-deployment clinic, outlined the allegations in a report that aired Wednesday night on CNN's "AC 360°."

She accused the Phoenix VA -- up until at least three weeks ago -- of not following a mandate that the highest priority be given to new or injured veterans for scheduling appointments.

Wait lists in Phoenix for veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can be "six months, nine months or longer," Mitchell said.

"People that are 100% service-connected that are polytrauma were waiting anywhere from six to 10 months to get into a new appointment when I found out about 'em," she said.

Has Obama improved services for vets?
Obama: VA misconduct 'disgraceful'
Will Shinseki get axed?
GOP chair: This goes beyond Shinseki

"We're talking about people that were injured by being blown up by IEDs. We're talking about people who had a mental breakdown and have severe PTSD and ...are having trouble functioning."

Mitchell told CNN that in some instances because of those wait times, case managers in her clinic and patient advocates ask: "This guy can't wait. Can you see him?"

The doctor said she reported the alleged practice to the VA's Office of the Inspector General.

The VA did not directly respond to Mitchell's allegations, referring CNN instead to the testimony of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki before a Senate committee looking into the allegations: "It is important to allow OIG's independent and objective review to proceed until completion, and OIG has advised VA against providing information that could potentially compromise their ongoing review."

Mitchell's claims are the latest in a rapidly unfolding scandal amid allegations of scheduling tricks and secret lists to hide monthslong waits for care. These accusations have mushroomed since CNN first reported the problem in November in an investigation examining several VA hospitals.

Read the story that helped expose the problem

The most disturbing problems emerged at the Phoenix VA, with sources revealing details of a secret waiting list. According to the sources, at least 40 American veterans died while waiting for care at the VA there. The allegations have been followed by news of investigations at more than two dozen facilities across the nation.

The problem, according to Mitchell, has to do with the VA not having enough medical providers to care for veterans.

There are a few reasons for this, she said: low pay, lack of qualified professionals applying to work at the VA and a slow hiring process.

"As a result, you've got a lot of patients and not enough providers," she said. "It's not just Phoenix VA. It's across the country, which is why everyone is hiding a backlog."

Mitchell's allegations came the same day President Barack Obama vowed to hold accountable anyone who manipulated or falsified records at VA facilities. He also said he was sending his deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, to visit the Phoenix facility and interview the VA office's interim director.

Mitchell said she has not dealt with a veteran patient who subsequently died, but she said she was aware of a disturbing trend of suicides.

"These guys who committed suicide, who were successful suicide completions, would have benefited from more intense mental health treatment," she said. "And those appointments weren't available."

So why hasn't anyone been fired yet?

Clay Aiken: Buck has to stop with Obama

CNN's Drew Griffin and Scott Bronstein reported from Phoenix, and CNN's Chelsea J. Carter wrote and reported from Atlanta. CNN's Nelli Black contributed to this report.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

Part of complete coverage on
Veterans Affairs
updated 6:43 PM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
The chairman of the House VA Committee is accusing the VA of "what appears to be an attempt to mislead Congress and the public" by manipulating the number of veterans who died as a result of delays in care.
updated 11:28 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Roughly half the schedulers at multiple VA hospitals said they received instructions from supervisors to falsify data and hide the true time it took patients to be seen by a doctor.
updated 3:45 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
The Senate unanimously confirmed Robert McDonald, a former corporate CEO and an ex-Army officer, as the next Veterans Affairs secretary.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Sgt. Terry Mitchell withstood fire deep in the mountains of Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange. He survived that grisly war, but his life was cut short by delays in care.
updated 11:20 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
The FBI says it has opened a criminal investigation of the Veterans Affairs Department.
updated 7:09 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
An internal VA audit said tens of thousands of veterans wait at least 90 days for medical care, while even more never got an immediate appointment they requested.
updated 6:04 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
It began with secret texts to untraceable phones. Meetings took place in seedy bars, dark alleys, gas stations.
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
In the end, even Eric Shinseki knew he had to go, President Obama said in announcing the resignation of his only VA secretary over a growing scandal.
A report was released on an audit of VA facilities in the wake of news that the VA medical system is in trouble.
updated 10:04 PM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a comprehensive review of the military health care system.
updated 9:04 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Pedro Valdez, a Vietnam veteran, wanted help. And he knew where to get it -- through the Phoenix VA -- or so he thought.
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Scandal, controversy and veterans care in the United States have gone hand-in-hand for virtually as long as there's been a republic.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
The House has passed a bill making it easier for the VA to fire managers. CNN's Michelle Kosinski reports.
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
When the American Legion calls for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gen. Eric Shinseki to resign, you know something is profoundly wrong.
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
"The Phoenix VA Health Care System is committed to delivering the highest quality care to Veterans."
updated 8:33 AM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals, a CNN investigation has found.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT