Nearly 100 patients died waiting for care from Los Angeles VA

LOS ANGELES -- President Trump signed a bill today giving top-ranking officials at the department of Veterans Affairs more power to fire incompetent workers and protect whistle-blowers. The agency has struggled to provide health care and other services to military veterans.

The legislation was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where many veterans died while waiting months to see a doctor.

The problem was even worse at the Los Angeles VA hospital, CBS News correspondent Melissa Villarreal reports. 

A new report by the VA inspector general shows 43 percent of the 225 patients who died between October 2014 and August 2015 at the Los Angeles VA were waiting for appointments or needed tests they never got. However, the report does not conclude these patients "died as a result of delayed consults."  

Susan and Allen Hoffman were happily married for 43 years -- but Allen, a U.S. Navy veteran, was living in pain.

"He had an enlarged prostate and they just kept saying it's not a problem you know, whatever, and then, it started to get worse," Susan says.

He was scheduled to see a specialist in May 2013, but she says that didn't happen.

"She said, 'No, you're here just for a consult. You have to understand people have cancer and he doesn't,'" Susan Hoffman says. "I think we were there for 15 minutes."

Four months later, Hoffman was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer.

Dr. Christian Head is a surgeon at the Los Angeles VA. He says 140,000 patient consults were deliberately deleted.

"The number of patients waiting for care, the deletion of consults, and the wait list were much more significant here than at Phoenix," Head says.

"I first noticed an unusual number of patients who are presenting with delay in diagnosis, meaning that they present into the system, they disappeared for a number of years and then they presented late with advanced cancers. Those consults were being deleted, literally removed from the system," Head says.

Allen Hoffman died a year and a half after he was diagnosed. The VA has settled out of court with his widow.

"Was there any doubt in your mind that they were responsible for your husband's death?" Villarreal asked.

"Definitely they were," Susan Hoffman says.

The VA would not comment about Hoffman's case or Head's allegations, but Los Angeles' hospital director admits the problems in the report are serious.

To fix them, they've hired new leadership, are retraining employees and now posting wait times on-line.