Justice Department Already Involved in VA Scandal

Shinseki (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

An increasing number of lawmakers have called for a federal criminal probe of misconduct at the Department of Veterans' Affairs, but at some level, federal prosecutors are already involved.  

Richard Griffin, the acting inspector general at the VA, testified at a May 15 Senate hearing that his office was already in contact with DOJ about potential criminal conduct in Phoenix, Ariz.  

"OIG criminal investigators, including IT forensic experts, are also assisting the team," Griffin said. "We are working with Federal prosecutors from the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice here in Washington so that we can determine any conduct that we discover that merits criminal prosecution."  

The bombshell interim report released Wednesday by the IG's office, which found 1,700 veterans not on the existing waiting lists in Phoenix, also mentioned the Justice Department.  

"To address the allegations received thus far and remain prepared to address new allegations at medical facilities throughout VA, we are deploying Rapid Response Teams. We are not providing VA medical facilities advance notice of our visits to reduce the risk of destruction of evidence, manipulation of data, and coaching staff on how to respond to our interview questions. To date, we have ongoing or scheduled work at 42 VA medical facilities and have identified instances of manipulation of VA data that distort the legitimacy of reported waiting times," the report said. "When sufficient credible evidence is identified supporting a potential violation of criminal and/or civil law, we have contacted and are coordinating our efforts with the Department of Justice."  

Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., mentioned that during an appearance Wednesday evening on MSNBC.  

"The U.S. Attorney is, is now working with them on that," Sanders said. "What I think the point is, is that if they did not have the resources — the doctors, the nurses, the other staff needed to take care of veterans — within the very ambitious goal set by the VA, which was 14 days ... what they should have done is run the flag up the pole and made it very, very clear we do not have the resources."  

"Instead, what you had is people manipulating data, which is completely unacceptable. The other point that I would make ... if you think we only have a problem in terms of waiting periods within the VA, you would not be right," Sanders said.  

There are increasing calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign or otherwise depart from his post. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., joined that group Thursday.  

During the MSNBC appearance, Sanders called for a broader commitment to primary health care inside and outside the VA.  

"We need far more doctors in this country. We need to get them into the VA as quickly as possible, and we need to guarantee veterans the best quality health care that we can provide," Sanders said.