COLUMBIA, S.C. - U.S. Sen. Tim Scott on Thursday asked the Veterans Administration for information about its South Carolina facilities, telling the acting department secretary that he continues to be troubled.
"I am concerned South Carolina's veterans may not be getting the best possible care," Scott, R-S.C., said in a letter to Sloan Gibson and obtained by The Associated Press. "I know you agree with me that while we owe our veterans a debt that we cannot repay, the least we can do is ensure nothing but the best care for them and their families."
Scott's request is similar to those made by senators in other states, hoping to bring to light information about their local VA facilities. Earlier this year, after reports about veterans dying while awaiting appointments, Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for an independent investigation into "reported mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption" at the VA.
A report by the VA's inspector general found that 1,700 Phoenix-area veterans were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the official waiting list. Officials have confirmed that 18 other veterans whose names were kept off the list have also died.
In his letter to Gibson, Scott asked for:
- monthly backlog totals for each VA facility in South Carolina
- details of any "secret" or unauthorized waiting list in the state
- the number of South Carolina patient deaths related to any delay in care.
- information on bonuses and awards for senior staff at South Carolina's VA facilities since January 2009.
Last week, Scott met with South Carolina veterans, traveling the state to hear their frustrations about seeking care through the VA system. Data released Monday showed that patients seeking care through Columbia's VA hospital wait an average of 77 days for their first appointment with a primary care doctor - more than five times longer than the department's goal.
The audit showed that, nationally, more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for medical appointments.
Earlier this week, the Senate approved a bill proposing 26 new medical facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico be leased by the VA, including a walk-in clinic in Myrtle Beach and a primary care and dental annex in Charleston.
Scott told Gibson he wanted the information on South Carolina's facilities by June 20.