Dozens of veterans die while on VA’s secret wait list

Sharon Helman and President Obama / Photo:

Dozens of Phoenix-area veterans died after being put on a secret waiting list to see a Veterans Affairs doctor, according to an exclusive CNN report.

The report said Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and others executed an elaborate scheme to make the facility appear to be running efficiently.

When a veteran requested medical care, his name was entered into a set of records that were kept hidden, according to the report, which quoted a retired VA doctor and unnamed high-level sources. If an appointment opened up over the next 14 days, his name was transferred to the official appointment book, to make it look like the facility had shorter, more efficient wait times.

The scheme meant some veterans waited as long as a year and more to see a physician, with at least 40 dying before getting care.

“The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules,” Dr. Sam Foote, who had retired after 24 years at the VA facility in Phoenix, told CNN. “They developed the secret waiting list.”

VA rules require that patients be seen in a timely manner — within 14 to 30 days, Foote told CNN, which reported:

According to Foote, the elaborate scheme in Phoenix involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of veterans waiting for appointments and care. Officials at the VA, Foote says, instructed their staff to not actually make doctor’s appointments for veterans within the computer system.

“So the only record that you have ever been there requesting care was on that secret list,” he said. “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.”

This isn’t the first time Helman has been at the center of controversy. Before taking over the Phoenix facility, she ran another VA center in Washington state that was accused of falsifying suicide numbers, according to

Watch the report from Anderson Cooper via CNN, then check out “Deputy loses it on retired Marine who was taping her entire meltdown.”


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