U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said he's disturbed by reports of mismanagement at a VA medical center in Arizona that may have led to veterans' deaths, but that he's confident nothing similar is going on at the Bath VA.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said he’s disturbed by reports of mismanagement at a VA medical center in Arizona that may have led to veterans’ deaths, but that he’s confident nothing similar is going on at the Bath VA.
Reed said he recently had a “very frank and direct” conversation with Bath VA Medical Center Director Michael Swartz.
News broke last week of apparent efforts by administrators at the Phoenix VA to create the impression of prompt care for veterans by keeping two waiting lists – one official, and another, much longer, unofficial list.
That facility’s director, Sharon Helman, and other employees have been placed on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted.
According to some hospital employees, 40 or more veterans may have died awaiting care at the Phoenix facility, though it’s unclear if the waiting list directly led to their deaths.
“I find this practice appalling,” Reed said Tuesday.
He recently voted to boost funding for the VA in order to reduce backlogs in benefit claims for veterans.
But Reed doesn’t think more money or staff would have helped in Phoenix.
“I don’t think it’s a question of resources, I don’t think it’s a question of staffing,” he said.
According to Reed, there may have been a financial incentive to keep the “official” waiting list at the facility short – the director’s pay is linked to the facility’s ability to address veterans’ needs within 14 days of them seeking care.
Reed said he doesn’t object in principle to offering incentive pay to VA officials, within reason.
“The key thing is to make sure there’s accountability in those incentive programs,” he said.
Reed also plans to make inquiries at the VA medical centers in Buffalo and Erie, Pa., which are used by his constituents.
Last week, the VA’s top medical official, Dr. Robert Petzel, told a Senate committee that a preliminary investigation hadn’t yet turned up any evidence of an off-the-books, secondary waiting list, and no evidence of deaths linked to long waits for care.
He urged the members to wait for the completion of the internal investigation before drawing any conclusions.