Key members of Congress —mostly Democrats — want the Trump administration to address charges of a “secret” Veterans Affairs waiting list that suggests a higher number of patients seeking medical care than information more readily available publicly.
Allegations about significantly different data regarding veterans awaiting treatment on internal and public records were made by Jereme P. Whiteman, VA’s national director of clinic practice management, in a Washington Post column published online Monday.
In the column Whiteman alleged he sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie last week that said, “In September last year I discovered a secret VA wait list. I disclosed this wait list within my VHA chain of command. Since that date I have been retaliated against by officials within my chain of command. Furthermore, the agency has taken steps to conceal this wait list from the public.”
The monthly number of veterans awaiting care on the internal list is about three times greater than the numbers on the public list.
VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Whiteman’s allegations are false, noting, “VA’s electronic wait list has two components — one administrative and one clinical.”
According to Cashour, the clinical number is public and shows the number of veterans waiting for medical care. “The administrative component of the EWL has nothing to do with waits for medical treatment,” he said, “and tracks routine actions, such as facility and provider transfer requests.”
Not unexpectedly in today’s political climate, top Democrats on the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees are not satisfied with that response.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House committee, and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate panel, said, in a letter sent to Wilkie on Tuesday that Cashour’s explanation “is, at best, confusing.”
They asked the VA for a “more thorough explanation” for the existence of two sets of reports on wait time as well as copies of the reports Whiteman alleges show differing wait times for VA patients seeking health care.
Another Democrat, Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on government operations, chimed in, saying, Congress “must get to the bottom of the claims.”
Republicans have shown interest — albeit relatively limited — in the issue. Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, the top Republican on the House Veterans’ Affairs committee, said he has asked VA about the allegations and will continue looking into them.
Whiteman’s allegations come five years after a national uproar over essentially the same complaint — phony wait lists during the Obama administration that rocked the VA and pushed Eric Shinseki, who was then the VA’s secretary, from office.
Whether Whiteman’s allegations are substantiated or not, they have obviously further stirred Democrats in Congress bent on Trump’s impeachment or defeat in a 2020 re-election bid. Regardless, the allegations are there and demand a thorough investigation by Congress.