Friday, May 25, 2018

House committee subpoenas Veterans Affairs secretary

A House committee voted Thursday to subpoena the head of the Veterans Affairs Department, Eric Shinseki, and other top officials, stepping up scrutiny of the agency amid accusations that secret waiting lists were used to cover up long delays that veterans faced to see doctors.

The subpoena from the Committee on Veterans' Affairs covers all emails and other correspondence related to the "destruction or disappearance of an alternate or interim wait-list" at the department's Phoenix medical center. It asked for all emails from April 9 to May 8 sent to or from Shinseki; Dr. Robert Petzel, the department's undersecretary for health; Will Gunn, the department's general counsel; and five other senior officials.

The committee chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said the subpoena was necessary because the department had been "stonewalling" requests to provide more information about claims that an off-the-books waiting list was used to hide wait times, and that the list may have been subsequently destroyed.

"It is unfortunate that we have to come to this decision, but we did not do so without substantial justification," Miller said before the panel voted unanimously to issue the subpoena.

Previously, Miller wrote a letter to Shinseki seeking more information after he said that a top Veterans Affairs official had told congressional aides that an "interim list" on a spreadsheet may have been the focus of the Phoenix allegations, but that the spreadsheet had been destroyed.

In a statement Thursday, the VA said it would "review and respond to the subpoena." The department also announced that it would undertake a national review of its facilities to "ensure a full understanding of VA's policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care."

The accusations in Phoenix — and similar claims that have surfaced in Colorado and Texas — have snowballed into a new test for Shinseki. This week, one of the largest and most influential veterans organizations, the American Legion, called for Shinseki's resignation.

The White House says it has confidence in Shinseki.

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