Sharon Helman, the VA employee who was in charge of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, the facility at the center of the VA scandal, was fired on Monday.
Helman had been put on administrative leave in April, after she denied the existence of a secret list used to cover up delays in patient care. When she was asked at the time by CNN’s Drew Griffin if the Phoenix VA intentionally covered up long wait times, Helman had said, “It’s never come from me.”
But the facts seem to show otherwise.
At least 40 U.S. veterans died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system. According to Dr. Sam Foote, who recently retired after spending 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix, many of those veterans were placed on a secret waiting list.
The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by managers at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system to hide the fact that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor.
Foote said there was an “official” list that was shared with officials in Washington and that list showed that the Phoenix VA had been providing timely appointments. But in addition to this sham list, there was also another list, the “real list,” that was hidden from officials in Washington, where wait times could be more than a year.
Foote said , “The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules. They developed the secret waiting list.”
“The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules.”
Dr. Sam Foote
According to Foote, the elaborate scheme at the Phoenix VA involved shredding evidence to hide the long waiting lists for appointments and care. Managers at the Phoenix VA instructed their staff to not make doctor’s appointments for veterans within the computer system.
When a veteran came in seeking an appointment, “they enter information into the computer and do a screen capture hard copy printout. They then do not save what was put into the computer so there’s no record that you were ever here,” Foote said.
The information was then gathered on a secret electronic waiting list and then the information on the hard copy printouts that would show when veterans first began waiting for an appointment was destroyed.
That happened on Sharon Helman’s watch, when she was the director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System. So it is only right and just that Helman has been fired. With any luck, she’ll have to wait more than a year for her next doctor’s appointment.