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Whistleblower Uncovers Secret Wait Lists At VA Facilities

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) - The Office of the Inspector General finds secret wait lists at Veterans Affairs facilities in Denver, Colorado Springs and Golden after a whistleblower comes forward.

The Inspector General released a report saying the lists made it impossible to know how many veterans were waiting for care, how long they'd waited and whether they even received care.

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More than 200 veterans, the report says, were denied access to the Veterans Choice Program, which would have allowed them to seek care from therapists outside the VA.

"People pretty high within the organization directed everyone below them to use a system of Excel spreadsheets, just like in Phoenix, in order to hide or obscure wait times," said Brian Smothers, who blew the whistle in September 2016.

"Every veteran in the United States who filed for Post-Traumatic Stress outpatient care was put on a second set of books, nationwide," he said.

One veteran who called for help ended up taking his life after waiting for two weeks for a call back.

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"Clearly the VA was negligent in not reaching out to the veteran within the timeline they established themselves," says U.S. Congressman Mike Coffman. "They were supposed to reach out to him within seven days. They reached out to him in 14 days, a day after the veteran killed himself."

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Rep. Mike Coffman (R) Colorado (credit: CBS)

Coffman, (R-CO 6th District), Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO 5th District) and Colorado Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet requested the investigation after a whistleblower contacted them about the secret wait lists.

"We owe our veterans the absolute best in care and what this report shows is that's still not being achieved by a VA system that lacks the accountability and management necessary to stop making up wait lists; to stop mistreating veterans who are waiting for appointments," said Gardner, "It's got to stop."

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The Inspector General found the staff involved in the secret wait lists misinterpreted guidelines.

Smothers isn't buying that excuse.

"The healthcare system at the VA isn't going to change because the people that are making these mistakes, and maybe conducting criminal activity, are allowed to keep their job. Meanwhile veterans are dying," Smothers said.

Gardner called it mismanagement. He and Coffman vowed to pursue more accountability.

"It's very tragic and the fact is they always try to make excuses for it, but at end of day it's the veteran that paid the price for their inaction; for their incompetence," said Coffman.

"There's a lot of wrongdoing and there's a huge need to do something right now," Smothers said.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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