Local VA officials respond to delayed care controversy from AZ

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Officials with the W. G. "Bill" Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury are speaking out after a national outcry of the treatment of some veterans in a Veterans Administration facility in Arizona.

"At VA, our most important mission is to make sure Veterans know VA is here to care for them and provide the high quality care and benefits they have earned and deserve," said Barthalomew Major of the Public Affairs Office.  "Secretary Shinseki has directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to complete a nation-wide access review. The purpose of this review is to ensure a full understanding of VA's policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care. As part of the review during the next several weeks, a national face-to-face audit will be conducted at all clinics for every VA Medical Center (VAMC)."

The statement comes as embattled Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki is directing his agency to complete a nationwide review of clinics at VA Medical Centers across the country to assess veterans' access to care.

The VA says that Shinseki ordered the review before members of Congress began to call for it. The review is intended to determine whether all VA facilities are following the agency's existing scheduling policies correctly.

Shinseki has come under fire in the wake of reports that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, which worked to cover up long wait times by creating a secret waiting list and later destroying the evidence. A handful of top Republican senators have demanded both an investigation and Shinseki's resignation.

In 2005 the Salisbury facility did experience a dramatic upsurge in the number of patients being seen, and WBTV reported at the time that many veterans were complaining of long wait times for treatment.

From fiscal year 2003 to 2004, the Salisbury VA led all VA medical centers in the country with a 15.3 percent growth rate in patients, seeing 6,565 new patients.

A number of steps were taken at the time to handle the load, including increasing staff and programs, and the building and remodeling of outpatient clinics in Charlotte, Hickory, and Winston-Salem.

Copyright 2014 WBTV. All rights reserved. CBS News contributed to this story.