May 18 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is “madder than hell” about reports of veterans dying while awaiting health care and allegations that hospitals may have altered records to hide lengthy delays, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said.
“Nobody is more outraged about this problem right now” than Obama, McDonough said in an interview broadcast today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “And he will continue to press, as it relates to this question of timely access to care, until it is fixed.”
Veterans Affairs Inspector General Richard J. Griffin told a Senate committee last week he is investigating allegations that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at a Phoenix hospital. He is trying to determine if the deaths were related to the delays and whether the hospital’s electronic wait list purposely omitted some names.
The American Legion and some congressional Republicans have been calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki since CNN first ran a report last month about the deaths and wait times at the Phoenix hospital.
“We need the White House, the president, to come forward,” Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, told CBS. “He needs to make a statement, to show the employees of the VA that this needs to change now.”
The Veterans Health Administration operates the largest health-care system in the United States, serving about 8.8 million patients annually at more than 1,700 hospitals, clinics and other facilities, according to the department’s website.
“They were advertising waiting times of 30 to 55 days, when in fact they were more like six to seven months,” said Sam Foote, a retired doctor who worked at a VA facility in Phoenix and disclosed some of the problems.
“We never said that they died because of this,” Foote said on “Fox News Sunday” today. “We just made the point that at least 40 veterans, we felt, had died while waiting for care and these needed to be reviewed.”
Robert Petzel, the VA undersecretary for health, resigned last week, though he had been scheduled to retire sometime this year.
Obama assigned Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to work on a review of patient-safety rules, the Associated Press reported.
“This has gone from incompetence and a backlog to something criminal,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and Iraq war veteran who spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program today. “I think it’s time for Shinseki to resign.”
McDonough was asked on CBS whether Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general, retains Obama’s confidence.
“The president will continue to demand that he and all of us who work for him continue to fix these things until they are functioning the way that our veterans believe they should,” McDonough said in the interview, which was recorded May 16 and aired today.
Ryan Gallucci, deputy director for national legislative service at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his organization has “been screaming about this for years, about wait times.”
“We hope that the attention that’s really come to this in the last couple of weeks will finally inspire significant change,” Gallucci said on Fox.