June 24 (Reuters) - Records of dead veterans were altered to hide the number of people who died while awaiting care at the Phoenix hospital of the Department of Veterans Affairs, an employee of the facility told CNN.
The hospital in Arizona is at the center of a veterans’ healthcare scandal that has rocked the Obama administration. The Federal Bureau of Investigation this month began probing allegations of criminal wrongdoing at the center.
Pauline DeWenter, scheduling clerk at the Phoenix facility, told CNN in an interview broadcast on Monday that at least seven times since October she saw records that had been changed by someone else to hide the deaths of veterans who passed away while waiting for care.
She also said she was ordered by supervisors to manage a so-called “secret waiting list” of veterans seeking medical treatment, whose requests were just sometimes stuffed in a desk drawer and left there for months.
DeWenter said she has given evidence about the altering of the records, some of which she says took place in recent weeks, to criminal investigators.
The veterans’ care scandal led to last month’s resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general. It also added to the woes of President Barack Obama, who entered office vowing to improve care for U.S. veterans.
Earlier this month the VA said an internal audit found more than 100,000 veterans had been subjected to a wait of 90 days or more for appointments at medical facilities nationwide.
It also found that staff at 76 percent of the facilities surveyed said they had been instructed at least once to misrepresent appointment data. Doctors at VA clinics in Phoenix have alleged that some 40 veterans died while waiting for care.
DeWenter said she knew her life would change if she went public with her allegations.
“I will have people at work who are not going to like me because of what I’ve done,” she said. “And I’ll have other people at work who will say thank you.” (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Bill Trott)