(NaturalNews) More than three-dozen U.S. veterans died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom had been placed on a secret waiting list.
According to CNN, at least 40 vets died. The news network added that the secret list was "part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources."
For half a year, the news network has been reporting that there have been extensive delays in healthcare appointments for veterans around the country, many of whom died while waiting to be seen. However, the new revelations about the Phoenix facility are some of the most disturbing and striking to be discovered thus far.
Internal emails obtained by the network appear to show that top management officials at the Phoenix VA knew about the practice and even defended it.
Dr. Sam Foote, a physician who recently retired from the VA system in Phoenix after spending 24 years there, said that the institution works off of two lists for patient appointments:
-- There is an official patient list that is shared with officials in Washington, D.C., and shows that the institution is providing timely appointments -- which Foote has called a sham list.
-- Then, there is the real list that's kept from outsiders; wait times on that list can be more than a year.
'There's no record you were ever here'
"The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA's own internal rules," Foote told CNN. "They developed the secret waiting list."
The VA requires that its hospitals provide care to patients in a timely manner -- most typically, within a couple of weeks to 30 days. But according to Foote, the scheme in Phoenix involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of vets who are waiting for appointments and care.
Officials at the institution instructed their physicians and staff not to actually make appointments within the computer system. Rather, Foote says, when a vet comes in or calls seeking an appointment, "they enter information into the computer and do a screen capture [and] hard copy printout. They then do not save what was put into the computer so there's no record that you were ever here."
He went on to say that information would be collected on the secret electronic list, then information showing when vets first began waiting for an appointment was destroyed.
'They're all frustrated. They're all upset.'
"That hard copy, if you will, that has the patient demographic information is then taken and placed onto a secret electronic waiting list, and then the data that is on that paper is shredded," Foote said.
"So the only record that you have ever been there requesting care was on that secret list," he continued. "And they wouldn't take you off that secret list until you had an appointment time that was less than 14 days so it would give the appearance that they were improving greatly the waiting times, when in fact they were not."
He estimated that the number of veterans waiting to see a provider was somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600.
"I feel very sorry for the people who work at the Phoenix VA," said Foote. "They're all frustrated. They're all upset. They all wish they could leave 'cause they know what they're doing is wrong.
"But they have families, they have mortgages and if they speak out or say anything to anybody about it, they will be fired and they know that," he added.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed to get to the bottom of the allegations, National Public Radio reports.
"Allegations like this get my attention," the former U.S. Army general said. "If allegations are substantiated, we'll take swift and appropriate action."
The VA's budget has risen in recent years, despite cuts to other federal line items. President Obama is seeking further increases in the 2015 budget, The Wall Street Journal reported.