More than 300,000 military veterans live in eight counties that lie along the Austin-San Antonio segment of the Interstate 35 corridor, including more than 11,000 in Hays County, according estimates compiled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011. Click on the red circles to see veteran populations by county.
An ongoing investigation into claims that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employees falsified records to conceal waiting lists that left veterans languishing for months without medical care should be expanded to include a clinic in Austin and a medical center in Waco, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith said this week.
The department is already examining a clerk’s allegations that appointment schedules were manipulated at the North Central Federal Clinic in San Antonio to cover up patient backlogs; similar accusations are being made about other facilities in Central Texas. The department has been caught in ballooning outrage since the former director of a VA clinic in Phoenix asserted that rigged recordkeeping contributed to the deaths of as many as 17 veterans who perished before they could be admitted for treatment.
“This policy of falsifying medical records is dishonest, deceptive and injurious to veterans. Swift action must be taken to protect the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans,” the San Antonio Republican stated in a letter to the department’s acting inspector general, Richard J. Griffin.
The May 13 letter was undersigned by 23 other members of Texas’ congressional delegation including U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, a Weatherford Republican whose district includes a portion of western Hays County, as does Smith’s.
Smith continued, “We understand that your office has staff in San Antonio reviewing these allegations. However, we want to make sure that your office is investigating the potential misconduct that may also have affected veterans seeking care in Waco and Austin. We ask that you expeditiously and thoroughly investigate the claims.”
In a story published in the Austin American-Statesman two days after the congressman’s letter was sent to Griffin, recently retired VA doctor Joseph L. Spann was quoted as saying the chief of radiology at the VA Patient Aligned Care Team Clinic in Temple regularly asked doctors to alter their requested dates for ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans, which he said delayed treatment for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn called on retired Gen. Eric Sinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to resign in response to the allegations. The American Legion and Concerned Veterans of America have also demanded that Sinseki be replaced.
On Thursday, Sinseki testified during a four-hour hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs that the scandal “makes me mad as hell,” but he rebuffed some Republican senators’ insistence that he resign his post. The secretary said he has ordered an audit of all VA facilities in the nation, including nine medical centers and 36 clinics in Texas.
On Friday, Sinseki said he had accepted the resignation of the department’s top health official, Undersecretary Robert Petzel, effective as soon as the Senate confirms his successor.
COVER: An elderly veteran rides on a float sponsored by the Horizon Bay retirement community during the 2013 Veterans Day parade in downtown San Marcos. PHOTO by DON ANDERS/CITY OF SAN MARCOS