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Shinseki faces senators over scheduling problems at VA hospitals

VA secretary grilled over scheduling problems at VA hospitals.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
The hits keep on coming at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Secretary Eric Shinseki was under fire Thursday from a panel of senators about allegations of unethical or illegal behavior at a growing number of VA hospitals, and Durham's is on the list.

"We only have one mission: taking care of veterans," said Shinseki.

That was Shinseki getting grilled by senators about a host of alleged problems at VA hospitals around the country.

Connecticut Sen. Dick Blumenthal put a fine point on it.

"Isn't there evidence of criminal behavior here," said Blumenthal.

"There should be, yes," answered Shinseki.

This week, the Durham VA joined the growing list of VA hospitals where whistleblowers have complained of "inappropriate scheduling" -- gaming the system, as it's called -- to make it seem like the VA is helping more vets than it really is.

The department's mission is to get people seen within 14 days of a consult.

No one locally could tell us what the Durham VA's average wait time is, but veterans have told us it's not meeting that mandate.

One person emailed, "My husband waited almost a year to see a doctor for his shoulder."

Another wrote, "I got the letter to get the appointment in March. When I called, they gave me an appointment for Dec. 31. I seriously thought the person had misspoken."

Another email said, "...was diagnosed with a hernia Nov. 2013. Waited several months and... the schedule coordinator stated it would two to three more months due to bad weather."

Senators brought out internal VA documents showing similar problems at the department going back at least six years. Shinseki said he would get to the bottom of it.

"We have a vested interest in getting this right," said Shinseki.

There's no getting around the politics of the story. Both the candidates in North Carolina's senate race had something to say about it.

Thom Tillis called for immediate action, or Shinseki's resignation.

Sen. Kay Hagan's office told ABC11 that she's been working with the VA specifically about Durham's situation, but wouldn't go into detail.

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