WASHINGTON -- Rep. Steve Israel yesterday joined the bipartisan call for a criminal investigation into Veterans Affairs officials and staffers who manipulated appointments and wait lists for ailing veterans seeking health care.
"If anybody at the VA doctored forms, gamed the system, they ought to be investigated, prosecuted and punished," Israel (D-Huntington) said.
"And if the investigation suggests that Gen. Eric Shinseki did not have proper leadership at the VA, then he will have to resign," Israel said of the beleaguered VA secretary.
Israel said he sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to open an investigation. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) also have asked Holder for an investigation.
Israel said he was reacting to the acting VA inspector general's interim report released Wednesday that found 1,700 veterans at a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial wait lists and that they were "at risk of being forgotten or lost."
Similar kinds of manipulation to hide long and possibly growing waiting times were "systemic throughout" the VA system, the report said, and 42 VA facilities are under review.
The VA said it serves 8.9 million veterans at 150 medical centers and 820 outpatient clinics.
The Justice Department already is involved, but it hasn't opened a specific investigation.
The inspector general's report said it's coordinating efforts with Justice when it finds "sufficient credible evidence" of a "potential violation" of criminal or civil law. Justice spokesman Peter Carr said: "We are closely reviewing the report and will continue to consult with the Inspector General's Office regarding their ongoing review."
Shinseki called the findings "reprehensible to me." He ordered the VA to give the 1,700 veterans timely care and suspended two senior officials at the Phoenix medical center.
Israel said he has not heard of complaints or seen evidence of wait lists being manipulated to show shorter waits by the Northport VA Medical Center.
In a statement, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said, "In my 12 years in office, I can count on one hand the number of times I have received complaints about the facility."