Congressmen decry 700 on Pittsburgh VA wait list

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PITTSBURGH —

Two congressmen have criticized the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System for keeping nearly 700 veterans on a waiting list for medical care, some for more than a year.

U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and Mike Doyle, D-Pa., issued a statement Thursday night calling on the VA to contact every veteran on the list within 48 hours so they can schedule initial appointments.

Pittsburgh VA spokesman Mark Ray said officials expect all veterans on the list to be contacted by Friday.

The Pittsburgh VA hospitals weren't keeping veterans on a secret wait list like one uncovered at the Phoenix VA, where it's alleged as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care, Ray said. An inspector general's report found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were kept off an official waiting list at the Phoenix hospital. On Friday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the scandal.

The congressmen acknowledged that a recent audit by VA officials in Washington, D.C., found "no evidence that there were two sets of books in Pittsburgh, one with the real wait times and one that made the wait times look a lot better."

Still, the congressmen are pushing for an independent review of Pittsburgh's waiting list "given the well-founded lack of trust veterans have in the VA right now."

Murphy, who represents much of southwestern Pennsylvania, and Doyle, who represents the city and several suburbs, said they learned of the list from Pittsburgh VA officials.

"We have also learned that higher-ups within the Department of Veterans Affairs may have instructed officials at the Pittsburgh VA not to inform members of Congress about the existence of a wait list," they said.

The list is known as the New Enrollee Appointment Request, or NEAR. It contains veterans who requested medical appointments when they enrolled for VA health care. Some of those on the Pittsburgh list have been waiting for appointments since 2012, the congressmen said.

"Care delayed is care denied, and no veteran should be forced to await treatment because of mismanagement or worse," they said.