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Special panel sought to probe delays in VA care

| Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 6:12 p.m.
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House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has served on the panel since his first term in Congress.

The Obama administration was asked on Tuesday to set up a special, bipartisan commission to investigate accumulating allegations of health care delays at VA hospitals, dozens of the cases linked to findings or allegations of patient deaths.

The request came from the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. In a letter to Obama on Tuesday, Miller said an independent commission was necessary “to thoroughly investigate veteran access issues, patient harm and preventable deaths as a result of delays in care across the VA health care system.”

Miller cited as a precedent the presidential commission set up in 2007 in the wake of the scandal at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where there were allegations that wounded soldiers were getting caught in a bureaucratic labyrinth of sometimes delayed care or processing.

The VA has come under intense pressure over charges or findings that veterans have waited months to be seen by a doctor. In dozens of cases in recent years, some died before treatment was provided.The VA said its internal review found 23 veterans deaths in the last three to four years linked to delays in cancer screenings.

There have been calls from some sectors, including the American Legion, for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down. The agency chief responded last week by saying he would take “swift and appropriate” action should new problems surface.

On Monday, two Department of Veterans Affairs workers at a hospital in Durham, N.C., were sent home on administrative leave amid allegations linked to delay of health care. It was the third round of administrative leaves in recent weeks connected to charges of healthcare delays.

The VA issued a brief statement that a tip from an employee at the Durham VA Medical Center “indicated that some employees at that facility may have engaged in inappropriate scheduling practices at some point between 2009 and 2012.”

The VA learned of the allegations on Monday and two employees at the hospital were immediately placed on administrative leaving pending a review, the agency said.

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