Phoenix VA whistleblowers say hospital still lacks doctors

PHOENIX -- More than a year after we first learned of problems at the Phoenix VA Hospital -- they still have not been fixed. A new government report describes long waits for veterans seeking treatment.

Whistleblowers charge the hospital is missing something essential: enough doctors.

Ground zero for the Veterans Affairs wait-time scandal was at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital. A 2014 Inspector General report detailed how thousands of veterans across the country were put on secret waiting lists.

Cleaning up the VA

Whistleblower Dr. Sam Foote maintains that at least 40 veterans died in Phoenix since April 2013. He said more than two years later, the problems still aren't fixed.

The report did not blame the wait times for the deaths, but it did call for changes in how the Phoenix VA schedules appointments.

"A band-aid has been put on this, and therefore everything's okay? Everything's not okay," said Dr. Foote. "They still don't have enough physicians and providers to provide medical care."

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Dr. Sam Foote. CBS News

In October, the IG released a new report about critical staffing shortages in the Urology Department from April 2013 to September 2014. The report says "leaders did not have a plan to provide urological services" and the staffing crisis "impacted thousands of patients."

"They killed him, the Phoenix VA," said Debbie Allen, whose husband Mel was being treated at that time for bladder cancer.

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Debbie Allen. CBS News

The Urology Department had to refer the Vietnam veteran to an outside hospital.

"There were no doctors in the Urology Department that were qualified to do that surgery to remove his prostate and his bladder," said Allen.

Allen said it took eight months for the referral to go through. By then the cancer had spread, and Mel died in March 2014.

Could that have contributed to Mel's death?

"Yes. You don't mess around with cancer," said Allen.

The VA would not specifically discuss Mel Allen's case with CBS News because of privacy concerns. But the VA said in a statement it has reduced the number of patients on a wait list by hiring additional staff for the Urology Department, and by referring patients to private medical providers.

  • Mireya Villarreal

    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent.