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Veteran Care Controversy Sparks Action in Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, AR -- Federal lawmakers want to find out what top Veterans Affairs officials knew about dangerous delays in medical care at at least one Arizona hospital and maybe more VA facilities.
FAYETTEVILLE, AR -- Federal lawmakers want to find out what top Veterans Affairs officials knew about dangerous delays in medical care at at least one Arizona hospital and maybe more VA facilities.

Hospital executives with the VA in Phoenix were recently placed on administrative leave after being accused of keeping a secret waiting list to hide delays in patient treatments. The investigation includes looking into veterans who died while waiting for care and those who died while waiting for a follow up appointment they could not get.

A House Committee issued subpoenas for the e-mails of Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki. House Speaker John Boehner (R) thinks it is too early to call for Shinseki's removal.

"There is a systemic management issue throughout the VA that needs to be addressed. We are working on the VA Accountability Bill that will allow the secretary more discretion when it comes to firing managers that aren't getting the job done," said Boehner.

The Senate and the House are investigating. President Obama said Thursday that he has full confidence in his Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The controversy across state lines is sparking national attention and creating action here in Arkansas.

"The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks leads the nation in veteran satisfaction... We're happy not to have the issues that we're seeing perhaps elsewhere in the VA... We want to make sure that our veterans are cared for. It's a very personal mission for me, being a veteran myself, and I'll be honest with you, these folks deserve it," said Keith Neeley, Acting Director and Associate Director at VHSO.

Amidst the investigation in Phoenix looking into claims of secret waiting lists for veterans needing care, Neeley understands why veterans close to home and their families might be concerned.

"They probably wonder, how is my local VA doing and I think if you talk to veterans in our area, they'll tell you we're doing great... We are continuing to see our veterans on time. We're continuing to work with our veterans to schedule them as clinic availability exists for us."

In the wake of the Arizona case, the VA in Fayetteville has called for a "comprehensive review" to make sure they are meeting all national guidelines.

"We're looking constantly and we're reviewing our wait list, in fact it comes up every morning. We talk about any kind of issues we're having with access... We understand that the OIG, the Office of Inspector General, is going to be looking at facilities and if they do as a matter of course in this national effort, we'll certainly support that and we'll be very confident that we're meeting the standard that we need to meet."

And Neeley reassures, his team is always working to provide the best care for our service men and women.

"We're transparent, we're honest and we're open to both our veterans and any other review agency that's going to look at us."

As previously mentioned, the VA is currently undergoing a comprehensive review but Neeley said having these checks and balances in place internally is not new. They are constantly looking at how they can improve and working to fix any issues that arise but as far as serious red flags, like those in Arizona, Neeley said there is nothing like that happening here in Arkansas.

The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks serves as far north as Joplin, Missouri, as far south as Fort Smith, Arkansas, and as far west as Jay, Oklahoma.

"Again, I'm a veteran. I talk to my fellow veterans in the community and they understand our commitment and how dedicated we are to them and frankly, they're dedicated to us... Come to the VA, you'll get great care here, they're great people here and there are great fellow veterans here too," said Neeley.

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