Sen. Pat Toomey visited a Montgomery County VFW on Tuesday to rail against leadership lapses that led to the growing Veterans Affairs scandal and to propose his own legislation for rectifying the wrong with service members.
Toomey, citing what his spokeswoman said were media reports, said "at least one" Pennsylvania-based VA was among the 26 being investigated by the federal government for delayed appointments. But neither he nor his staff was able to say which VA had been implicated or to detail the claims against it.
"I'm not certain which one it is," the Republican senator said at the Willow Grove VFW post, speaking to a room of mostly media and a few veterans. "But my understanding is there's at least one. . . . They're concerned that if they disclose the facility that it could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation."
The Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General said last week that it was reviewing delays and mismanaged appointments at 26 locations. The investigation stems from allegations made last year at the Phoenix VA, where three senior officials have been placed on leave following claims that staff members used a secret wait list to hide delays.
Toomey said he was "deeply disturbed" by the allegations, including reports that 40 veterans died in Phoenix while on the secret waiting lists.
The legislation he proposed Tuesday, the VA Accountability Act, would allow veterans to sue VA employees who misrepresented or lied about health statuses, Toomey said. The federal employee would pay damages out of his or her own pocket.
Toomey said he was also in the process of working on legislation that would allow veterans who were not getting timely access at a VA facility to go somewhere else at the government's expense.
"They need to be first in line for the best-quality health care in the world," he said. "Today, they are neither."
Other members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation have joined the growing list of officials calling for a deeper investigation into the allegations. Several have said that they, like Toomey, have been unable to get information from the inspector general about which facilities have been implicated.
Sen. Bob Casey said Tuesday that the office should have "a measure of deference" during its investigation.
"I think that's appropriate. They cannot, though, for a long period of time, not tell people if there is a problem with a Pennsylvania facility," he said, urging a swift investigation.
Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat whose district includes the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, said Tuesday that even if a Pennsylvania facility were being reviewed, he would not be concerned.
"It does not mean wrongdoing," he said. "It just means they're being audited."
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