(Adds Senate vote)
By Julia Edwards and David Lawder
WASHINGTON, June 11 The Federal Bureau of
Investigation is probing allegations of criminal wrongdoing at
the Phoenix office of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),
which has been central to a scandal over veterans' healthcare
that has rocked the Obama administration.
"The FBI has instructed agents in its Phoenix office to
conduct an investigation into the allegations related to the
VA," a Justice Department spokesman said on Wednesday. "Federal
prosecutors will be working with these investigators to
determine whether there is a basis for criminal charges."
FBI involvement escalates the inquiries into the debacle
that led to the resignation on May 30 of Secretary of Veterans
Affairs Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general wounded three
times in Vietnam.
On Monday, the VA released the results of an internal audit
that found more than 100,000 veterans had been subjected to a
wait of 90 days or more for appointments at medical facilities
nationwide. There have been allegations that some veterans died
waiting for appointments.
The VA said it found that in mid-May, 57,436 veterans were
waiting for appointments that could not be scheduled within 90
days, while about 43,000 had appointments more than 90 days in
The audit showed that the cover-up of long wait times at VA
clinics was more extensive than initially thought, and it found
widespread instances of schemes to cover up the delays to meet
targets for bonuses.
The agency said staff at 76 percent of the facilities
surveyed reported that they had been instructed at least once to
misrepresent appointment data.
The issue has dogged the White House in recent weeks and
embarrassed Obama, who came into office promising to elevate
care for U.S. veterans.
Since the crisis erupted, Obama has tasked his deputy chief
of staff with helping to sort out the problems at the VA and
named an acting secretary, Sloan Gibson, to take over for
The VA report made no mention of whether long wait times had
resulted in any deaths of veterans. Doctors at VA clinics in
Phoenix have alleged that some 40 veterans died while waiting
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a
bipartisan measure aimed at easing healthcare delays
for veterans by giving them more access to private
care and allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs to open
more clinics and hire more medical staff.
The 93-3 vote in the Democratic-led Senate followed
unanimous passage on Tuesday in the Republican-controlled House
of Representatives of a similar bill.
Lawmakers must now iron out differences between the
House and Senate versions before voting on a final package that
could be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
(Additional reporting by Will Dunham; Writing by Jeff Mason;
Editing by Toni Reinhold)