During a testy and at times emotional four-hour hearing late Wednesday night, an official with the Veterans Affairs Department told the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that reports of secret waiting lists at the Phoenix Health Care System are false.
"I was not able to identify any lists that I thought were secret," the VA's Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Clinical Operations, Dr. Thomas Lynch, told members Wednesday.
Lynch went on to explain that the lists were actually produced automatically by the VA's data system when an appointment was canceled so that it could be rescheduled. Once a new appointment was made, the lists were destroyed, Lynch said, because they contained "patient-identifying information," including Social Security numbers. Several members asked Lynch for the names of those responsible for destroying the documents, but he said he did not know.
In all of those cases, Lynch told reporters after the hearing, the appointments were canceled and rescheduled due to either clerical issues or the staff's determination that they could see the veteran on an earlier date.
A preliminary report issued by the VA's inspector general earlier on Wednesday found evidence of inappropriate scheduling tactics at the Phoenix VA that resulted in long delays and placed some of the blame on the fact that the department ties low wait times to staffers' bonuses. Several media outlets have reported that those long lines for service resulted in at least 40 deaths, although the IG has not yet confirmed those figures.