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Senator Roy Blunt says Kansas City VA maintained secret waiting list

Thursday, June 5, 2014 | 8:16 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — The Veterans Affairs medical center in Kansas City, Mo., maintained a secret waiting list of veterans, the latest of several centers around the country found to have such an unauthorized list, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt's office said Thursday.

Blunt spokeswoman Amber Marchand said the list contains the names of 37 veterans — all of them heart patients.

The Kansas City VA confirmed the list hours after Blunt sent a letter asking if the secret list existed. Blunt told reporters in a teleconference earlier Thursday that such a list allows VA centers to skew statistics and give misleading information about how quickly veterans are getting treatment.

The Kansas City VA Medical Center said in a statement that it is reviewing capacity at the medical center and its community clinics in an effort to expedite care.

"No Veteran should have to wait for the quality health care they have earned and deserve," the statement read. "This is our top priority."

A spokeswoman declined further comment.

In addition to questioning if the list existed, Blunt's letter to Kent D. Hill, director of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, questioned why the Kansas City facility failed to notify members of Congress once it learned of the list, and what actions were taken in response.

"These so-called 'unauthorized wait lists' for America's heroes are simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Blunt said in a statement. "I'm going to do everything I can to ensure this stops immediately. Our veterans should not be forced to wait for care."

The VA is conducting a system-wide investigation after it was found that the Phoenix VA Health Care System had about 1,700 veterans in need of care on secret waiting lists, and another that had 1,400 waited over 90 days for primary care appointments. The scandal led to the resignation last week of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

VA Heartland Network officials sent a letter to Blunt on May 29 confirming two facilities had "unauthorized lists." One was the VA medical center in Wichita, Kan. The Kansas City VA facility was the second to emerge.

Blunt said that existence of a secret list calls into question anything a VA center reports about how quickly it treats patients.

"If they're making progress in that direction by having people who are in the desk drawer somewhere rather than on the list, that's the height of failing to disclose and in fact the height of trying to do what you can to make your facility look better than it really does," Blunt said.

Earlier this week, it was learned the VA had told U.S. senators in multiple states that 108 veterans in the six states overseen by the VA's Heartland network had waits for care of more than 90 days, including several in Missouri.

Senior U.S. senators agreed Thursday on the framework for a bipartisan bill expanding veterans' ability to get health care outside the VA. Blunt said he favors alternatives that would allow veterans to get care elsewhere if the wait time at a VA center was too great.

"I think options are a good thing and choices for veterans are a good thing," Blunt said.

In a waiting room at the VA hospital in Kansas City, Mo., Vietnam veteran Ira Brown said Thursday he was satisfied with the decades of care he has received from VA facilities in both Missouri and Kansas.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give this place an 8," said Brown, 65, who was at the hospital to have an EKG on his heart. "Most of the time they get me in within 20 minutes to half an hour, which is understandable with all the people who come here."

The only time the Turner, Kan., resident had a lengthy wait for a procedure was in 2009, when he said he waited two months to get into the VA hospital in Columbia for a quadruple bypass.

"They saved my life," he said.


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