Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Monday asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to review wait times at VA facilities in California amid a veterans health care scandal that led to the resignation last week of the agency's chief.
Feinstein wrote Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson that she was "deeply disturbed" by an interim report last week by the department's inspector general finding that the Phoenix VA system hid lengthy wait times for 1,700 veterans, including some who had to wait more than three months for a primary care appointment.
California is home to 1.8 million veterans, more than any other state, with a high concentration in southern California. Feinstein wrote that she'd been told some veterans in Long Beach and Los Angeles were waiting as long as three months for appointments.
"It is critical that your Department take steps to ensure that California's veterans do not suffer negative healthcare outcomes due to untimely delays in receiving medical appointments," she wrote Gibson. "I also believe that your Department should treat this matter as a public health crisis facing our nation's veterans."
Gibson inherited the VA crisis last week with the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki as the department's secretary. The scandal generated outrage on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans and Democrats calling for Shinseki to go.
Feinstein said in a statement Monday that Congress should make changes to how the VA operates, including giving the secretary the power to remove senior executives for poor job performance, giving veterans the option of using non-VA facilities for health care, providing the agency with more funding to boost staffing levels and changing its "antiquated" appointment scheduling system.
"It is unacceptable that veterans are forced to wait months for appointments," she said. "Congress must act quickly and decisively and I will support legislation to address this situation."
PHOTO: In this April 18, 2012, file photo Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite