The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

June 5, 2014

More VA hospitals under scrutiny

CHICAGO — Illinois members of Congress are increasing their scrutiny of veterans hospitals in the state after an internal review showing several dozen patients waited more than three months for appointments at two facilities.

Letters from Veterans Affairs officials to some U.S. senators — including Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kansas’ two senators — last week disclosed that problems with delayed care and unauthorized wait lists existed at several facilities throughout the Midwest. Among them were two hospitals serving veterans from southwestern Illinois, in Marion and St. Louis.

Just days ago, officials at both facilities assured U.S. Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville there were no such problems at either facility, the Republican told The Associated Press Wednesday, adding that he was surprised to learn otherwise this week.

“That’s news to me which was not divulged in previous conversations with these administrators,” he said. “And so that may cause me to have to circle back to make sure I understood what they were telling me. That raises more questions.”

Representatives for the two hospitals could not be reached for comment. A regional spokesman, Shaun Shenk, responded with a VA statement acknowledging problems in reporting accurate wait times and referring to system-wide efforts to accelerate care.

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, were planning visits to VA facilities in Illinois this week, including the Marion VA Medical Center. The VA’s Inspector General’s Office is conducting a nationwide review of facilities after allegations first emerged at a hospital in Phoenix that secret waiting lists were used to cover up long wait times.

In Illinois, most of the attention has been focused on a suburban Chicago hospital where several staff members and a union representative have come forward with similar allegations. Kirk, a Republican from Highland Park, has asked the VA’s acting inspector general to investigate the allegations, including whether $16.6 million in bonuses to employees may have led to secret wait lists and scheduling manipulation.

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