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VA pledges faster appointments while Hagel orders military health review

By Barbara Starr, Nelli Black and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 10:04 PM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Military review will focus on three areas: access to care, hospital safety, quality of care
  • Meanwhile, the VA is pledging to decrease veterans' waiting times for appointments
  • The actions come in the wake of a growing VA scandal first uncovered by CNN

Washington (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a comprehensive review of the military health care system on Tuesday in the wake of the growing VA scandal.

Hagel's move comes the same day the Department of Veteran Affairs announced veterans waiting for appointments for more than 30 days at VA hospitals and clinics will have an opportunity to see a doctor sooner.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN that Hagel had been considering the review for some time but decided to act now as he saw the VA scandal, first uncovered by CNN, unfold.

The review, which is expected to last for 90 days, will focus on three areas: access to care, hospital safety and quality of care.

Meanwhile, amid heavy pressure to address allegations of scheduling tricks and secrets lists to hide monthslong waits for care, the VA released details of its "Accelerated Access to Care Initiative."

Those accusations have mushroomed since CNN first reported the problem in November in a detailed investigation examining several VA hospitals, reports that prompted President Barack Obama and lawmakers to call for investigations.

Part of the initiative, which the VA says was implemented on May 23, calls for all veterans waiting more than 30 days for an appointment to be contacted by the VA to determine whether they want to be seen by a doctor sooner.

According to the initiative, the VA will make at minimum three attempts to contact each veteran.

If the veteran wants to see a doctor sooner, "and the capacity and resources exist -- (following the facility assessment), the veteran will be scheduled into new appointment openings," according to a fact sheet provided by the VA.

If a facility can't handle all of the patients, "non-VA medical care referral will begin," it said.

Under the initiative, reviews have been ordered of each VA facility to determine whether it can handle its current patient load.

This includes examining whether VA clinics need to extend hours or approve overtime so more veterans can be seen.

The reviews are expected to be completed by Friday, according the VA.

Obama has promised to hold accountable anyone found to have manipulated or falsified records.

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 top officials at the Phoenix VA denied any existence of a secret waiting list after CNN's initial Phoenix report went out.

A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital's secret list

The director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system and two others were placed on administrative leave after the allegations made headlines and raised ire in Washington.

The allegations have been followed by news of investigations at more than two dozen facilities across the nation.

Timeline: VA's troubled history

CNN's Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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