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Nearly 700 Pittsburgh area vets stuck on VA wait list

| Thursday, May 29, 2014, 11:03 p.m.
Chlorine treatments meant to stop dangerous bacteria that can lead to Legionnaires’ disease are eating away metal pipes across the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare’s plumbing system, threatening long-term damage that could cost millions to correct, an independent evaluation shows.

A wait list at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System kept nearly 700 veterans waiting as long as a year or more for care, two Western Pennsylvania congressmen said Thursday night.

The New Enrollee Appointment Request list — a list of veterans who apply for enrollment in the VA health care system — included hundreds of veterans in the Pittsburgh health care system, some of whom had been waiting for care since 2012, according to a joint statement by U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy and Mike Doyle.

The revelation comes as the VA faces increasing pressure from Congress and veterans groups over allegations that perhaps 40 veterans died while languishing on a secret wait list at the Phoenix VA. VA Pittsburgh spokesman Mark Ray said the Western Pennsylvania health care system does not maintain a secret waiting list like the one at the Phoenix VA, which has garnered condemnation and outrage from President Obama and top leaders in Congress.

Murphy and Doyle said they learned of the list from members of the VA Pittsburgh's leadership team — a disclosure that others in the VA hierarchy might have tried to hush up.

“We have also learned that higher-ups within the Department of Veterans Affairs may have instructed officials at the Pittsburgh VA not to inform members of Congress about the existence of a wait list,” said the statement by Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

“Anything less than full cooperation is completely unacceptable and should be punished to the fullest extent,” the congressmen said.

They demanded that every veteran on the list be contacted within the next 48 hours to schedule an appointment, and called for an independent investigation of the VA Pittsburgh.

“VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System does not have any secret waiting lists. We began an intensive effort today to call and offer initial primary care appointments to all Veterans in our service area who are enrolled with the VA, but have not yet been scheduled a primary care appointment. We expect to contact all of these Veterans by (Friday) afternoon, and to schedule initial primary care appointments to all who want them,” Ray said.

Terry Gerigk Wolf, director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, said in a statement posted on the VA website it is “essential” to schedule the appointments.

“Care delayed is care denied, and no veteran should be forced to await treatment because of mismanagement or worse,” Murphy and Doyle said. “If any effort was undertaken to conceal the true details of how long veterans have to wait for care, then those responsible should be referred to appropriate legal authorities for further review.”

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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