Montgomery Veterans Affairs hospital investigated
The Veterans Affairs hospital in Montgomery was recently investigated by federal officials, part of a system-wide audit following allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths in the VA system nationwide.
The Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System's Montgomery campus was recently "paid a visit" by auditors from the VA Inspector General's office, facility privacy officer Ethel Pressley said. There were no other immediate details on the Montgomery audit or its findings.
Pressley said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered audits like the one in Montgomery at every VA healthcare facility in the nation. The Inspector General's office said last week that just 10 facilities were being investigated nationwide, but the office raised that number to 26 late Tuesday.
Former Marine John Napier, a disabled veteran of three wars, said he uses the Montgomery facility often and praised the level of care.
"They've taken very good care of me," Napier said. "I'm distressed by these events. I feel for Gen. Shinseki, who I think is a great American soldier. But if these stories are true, they need to be corrected."
Others shared less positive experiences at the Montgomery hospital. Former Navy Lt. Commander Vester Little said he once was turned away without care and was outraged. "There's a lot of these old veterans that feel like that," Little said.
According to 2013 VA data, the Montgomery facility had the seventh worst wait times for mental health appointments in the nation, with 52.4 percent of veterans waiting more than 14 days for a visit. U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said those types of waits are unacceptable and that the VA should contract local hospitals and clinics to help.
"I hear everyday from veterans who are waiting on services from the VA," Roby said. "So many of our service members returning from war are in need of mental health care, and forcing them to wait could have disastrous consequences. This is past the point of being a problem. It's a crisis, and I'm tired of hearing excuses."
President Obama on Wednesday called allegations that government officials falsified data to hide how long veterans were waiting to see doctors "intolerable" and "disgraceful" and vowed to hold those responsible accountable if the charges prove true.
"I will not tolerate it, period," Obama said.
The president spoke to reporters shortly after meeting at the White House with Shinseki and White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, who has been tasked by Obama to help the VA chief conduct a nationwide review of VA hospitals' policies.
The president said that he expected a preliminary report from Nabors and Shinseki next week.
Shinseki, who is facing calls from the American Legion and Republican lawmakers to resign, and Nabors are set to travel to Phoenix on Wednesday to speak to hospital officials. Reports there that workers were hiding delays in wait times for doctors' appointments first surfaced several weeks ago at that facility and spurred the current furor.