Sen. Tom Udall
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Monday, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. responded to the results of a nationwide audit of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health facilities, which found New Mexico’s veterans wait an average of 46 days for primary care and identified New Mexico as being one of a select number of facilities that need a follow-up investigation.
In May, Udall called for the audit of the VA health care network covering New Mexico, Arizona and Texas (VISN 18), and former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced a nationwide audit the next day. Udall has also called for an independent investigation by the VA Inspector General (IG) into New Mexico’s VA system.
While today’s audit report evaluated wait times and patient health outcomes, the VA IG is investigating allegations that VA employees were deliberately falsifying records about waiting lists. In the wake of evidence that VA employees may also have broken federal laws, Udall today joined a bipartisan group of senators writing to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take a leadership role in the IG investigations.
Additionally, the Senate is expected to vote as early as this week on legislation Udall cosponsored that would change the culture at the VA, by giving VA officials the authority to immediately remove senior executives based on poor job performance. The bill would shorten wait times for veterans by enabling them to seek care at community health centers, military hospitals, or in some cases private doctors.
Udall issued the following statement:
“What has happened at the VA is a betrayal of our veterans – men and women who fought for our freedom – and it is unacceptable. According to the audit, 3,485 New Mexico veterans were on an electronic waiting list for over 30 days, and our wait times for new patients are longer than average—over 45 days for primary care. These findings mirror complaints I have heard from veterans, family members and VA whistleblowers – concerns that the VA initially said were unfounded. The audit again confirms that the VA has not been open and honest with the public or with me about systemic problems with patient wait times.
“Last week, I spoke with the VA’s Inspector General, who will examine whether employees were gaming the system nationwide and in New Mexico and identify whether there was criminal wrongdoing. But the evidence showing VA employees at health centers across the country kept secret waiting lists, falsified records, and destroyed documents, among other potential crimes, is appalling. That is why I’m pushing for Justice Department federal investigators to step in and take a leadership role nationally and ensure that anyone responsible for abuses is held accountable through criminal prosecution.
“Many veterans like their care at the VA—but they need to get in the door to benefit from it. I’m continuing to light a fire under the VA from the top on down to make sure we keep the solemn promise we made to our veterans to provide them with the best care possible. As early as this week, the Senate will consider legislation to restore transparency and accountability and improve access to care at the VA. I urge the Senate to move quickly to pass it.”
Udall is continuing to receive information from veterans, family members and whistleblowers through calls to his office and a link on his website: tomudall.senate.gov/veterans. Last week, Udall spoke with the Acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin and urged him to make the investigation in New Mexico a top priority. He also sent an initial submission of whistleblower information for the IG to follow up on.