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Sen. Rubio asks VA for Florida wait list data

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Published:   |   Updated: May 13, 2014 at 04:21 PM

Sen. Marco Rubio is asking Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to provide him with electronic waiting list data for all VA medical centers in Florida.

Rubio, reacting to stories about possible deaths in Arizona linked to waiting lists at a VA facility in Phoenix, wrote a letter to Shinseki today “seeking your assurances that the VAMCs (Veterans Affairs Medical Center) treating Floridians are not keeping their own separate, secret wait lists that have not been disclosed.”

VA officials say they have received Rubio’s letter.

“Secretary Shinseki has directed the Veterans Health Administration to complete a nation-wide access review,” said VA spokeswoman Meagan Lutz. “The purpose of this review is to ensure a full understanding of VA’s policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care. As part of the review during the next several weeks, a national face-to-face audit will be conducted at all clinics for every VA Medical Center.”

Last week, Mary Kay Hollingsworth, spokeswoman for the VA’s Sunshine Healthcare Network which represents Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, told The Tribune she does not anticipate those problems exist in the network.

Hollingsworth was responding to questions about an audit ordered by Shinseki of VA facilities in wake of the situation in Phoenix and another in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“I am deeply concerned about media reports referencing a secret electronic wait list maintained by a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Arizona that may have caused delayed medical care for certain veterans, resulting in injuries and even deaths,” Rubio wrote. “I understand you have rightly directed an immediate investigation into the matter. However, I believe further steps need to be taken to determine if other VAMCs are engaging in similar practices. The VA needs to obtain data on all VAMC’s timeframes for diagnosis and treatment, and determine if any veterans died or were injured in situations where there was delayed medical care.”

Rubio also asked Shinseki for information about the VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi, Mississippi, “since it treats veterans residing in Florida’s Panhandle.”

Rubio becomes the latest politician to raise questions about the care of Florida veterans.

Earlier this year, Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott raised questions about deaths and injuries at VA medical facilities in the wake of stories and an editorial by the Tribune. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has long requested information about problems at the VA.

In his letter, Rubio raises specific concerns about the VA medical center in Orlando, which in February “acknowledged an electronic wait list when the American Legion visited the medical center as part of its ‘System Worth Saving’ site visits,” Rubio wrote in his letter to Shinseki.

“At that time, VAMC Orlando officials acknowledged a wait list of approximately 2,400 patients who were waiting to be seen for specialty care appointments,” wrote Rubio. VA officials, he wrote, said the wait list was “due to a combination of the need for additional space to treat veterans and the lack of available VA physicians to provide care. At the same time, officials said they spent $130 million on non-VA care in 2013 to help provide more timely care to Central Florida veterans. The expectation expressed by VA officials at the time was that the planned operation of the new VAMC Orlando at Lake Nona in 2015 would help alleviate the need for the wait list due to the new facility having additional treatment space and more providers.”

Rubio said his Orlando staff asked Orlando VA officials to provide an update during their April 17, quarterly meeting.

The topic, however, was not addressed, Rubio wrote.

“With thousands of Central Florida veterans impacted by the situation, I would appreciate an update on the VAMC Orlando’s wait list,” wrote Rubio.

Stay with TBO.com for updates.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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