Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

More Calls Now for Criminal Investigations into VA Issues; Suspected Manipulation of Wait Times at Hospitals Drawing More Attention

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

More Calls Now for Criminal Investigations into VA Issues; Suspected Manipulation of Wait Times at Hospitals Drawing More Attention

Article excerpt

Byline: Clifford Davis

Democrats, Republicans and the Department of Veterans Affairs' own inspector general are now calling for criminal investigations into the suspected intentional manipulation of wait times at VA centers across the country.

On the heels of the release earlier this week of the VA's own access audit, which revealed 69 VA facilities are flagged for further investigation, including four in Florida, the House Veterans Affairs Committee met in a nearly three-hour session Monday night where calls for criminal charges pervaded.

The decision on criminal prosecution ultimately lies with the Obama administration's top lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder.

The chairman of the committee, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., asked acting VA inspector general Richard Griffin if he'd found evidence of criminal activity.

"We have found indications of some supervisors directing some of the methodologies to change the times," Griffin said. "We've been in discussion with the Department of Justice concerning those and whether or not, in the opinion of the DOJ, they rise to the level of criminal prosecution."

Griffin acknowledged that in his opinion the actions were criminal.

The committee requested the Justice Department open a criminal investigation, but had not yet received an answer.

"I think it comes down to accountability of the senior leadership out at these facilities," Griffin said. "Once someone loses his job or gets criminally charged for doing this, it will no longer be a game.

"And that will be the shot heard round the system."

Criminal investigations are the only way to break through the levels of bureaucracy, Griffin said.

"I suspect if people do start being charged maybe that middle-level person will say, aeWait a minute, I'm not going to take a fall here for somebody higher up the food chain than me who directed that we do this,' " Griffin said.

The calls came from both sides of the aisle at the unusual late-night meeting.

"A criminal investigation is needed to remove individuals who knowingly prevented veterans from receiving the timely and quality care they needed and resulted in harm or death," said U.S. Rep. Paul Ruiz, D-Calif. "A criminal investigation will put an end to this wrongdoing and will change culture now and for the future."

Noticeably absent from the calls for criminal charges - something she suspected was "grandstanding" - was U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., a 21-year veteran of the committee.

In recent weeks, Brown has touted VA facilities in Florida as a positive example of how the VA should operate.

'WE ARE IN GOOD SHAPE'

Brown spoke in Jacksonville at the Veterans Memorial Wall during the city's Memorial Day ceremonies. "For 21 years, I have served on the veterans affairs committee," she said. "I've done my reconnaissance and I want you to know that in Florida, we are in good shape.

"In Gainesville, let's be clear, we have one of the best hospitals in the country ..."

Brown's comments came nine days after three administrators in the hospital's mental health department were placed on administrative leave after a paper list was discovered of patients who needed calls returned for appointments. …

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