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Pittsburgh VA sets appointments for veterans on once-secret waiting list

| Monday, June 2, 2014, 11:27 p.m.

The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System scheduled appointments for 152 of the 636 veterans who spent months on a once-secret waiting list that was disclosed last week, the VA said Monday.

Agents from the local VA Office of Inspector General interviewed at least one former VA scheduler on Monday to ask whether she had proof that VA Pittsburgh director Terry Gerigk Wolf knew about the list, and whether she knew which other VA employees talked to the Tribune-Review about the secretive practices behind it.

“It's clear that they're very fearful of the knowledge that I have and that they're worried that I'm getting information passed to me from inside the VA to give to outside investigators,” said the former scheduler, Karen Santoro, 47, of the South Side.

Santoro is one of two Trib sources who spoke on Monday with investigators for the House Veterans Affairs Committee about the list and other VA Pittsburgh practices.

Wolf disclosed the list to two local congressmen on Thursday and told them that her superiors told her not to talk about it, the congressmen said on Friday. Secret waiting lists at facilities across the country have plunged the department into a crisis, drawn widespread condemnation from politicians and veterans groups and forced former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on Friday.

The appointments in Pittsburgh will occur on or before June 14, according to a progress report from VA spokesman Mark Ray. Eight veterans proved unreachable by mail or phone, 22 requested appointments but have not been scheduled, and 250 deferred or declined VA care, according to the report. The VA could not clarify the status of the other 200 or so veterans Monday night.

Some veterans on Pittsburgh's New Enrollee Appointment Request list, which is maintained for those trying to enroll in VA care for the first time, waited longer than a year before the VA contacted them.

Veterans who want to schedule an appointment can call 412-822-3000 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

Mike Wereschagin and Carl Prine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Wereschagin at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com. Reach Prine at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

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