WASHINGTON — A top Veterans Affairs Department official is acknowledging “an integrity issue here among some of our leaders” as the embattled agency reels from mounting evidence that workers fabricated data on veterans’ waits for medical appointments in an effort to mask frequent, long delays.
“It is irresponsible,” Philip Matkovsky, a top VA official who helps oversee its administrative operations, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee at an unusual Monday evening hearing. “It is indefensible, and it is unacceptable. I apologize to our veterans, their families and their loved ones.”
Matkovsky’s apology, rendered hours after his agency released fresh revelations about slow-moving care, echoed acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson’s contrition shortly after he replaced Eric Shinseki atop the agency. President Barack Obama accepted Shinseki’s resignation May 30, but that has not stopped the uproar over veteran’s care from becoming an embarrassment for the Obama administration and a potential political liability for congressional Democrats seeking re-election in November.
Matkovsky did not specify which VA officials had questionable integrity. The agency has started removing top officials at its medical facility in Phoenix, a focal point of the department’s problems, and investigators have found indications of long waits and falsified records of patients’ appointments at hundreds of facilities.
Asked by Veterans Affairs panel Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., whether officials at the agency’s main office had ordered manipulation of patients’ data, Matkovsky said he was not aware of that, adding, “I certainly hope they have not.”
Richard Griffin, acting VA inspector general, told lawmakers his investigators were probing for wrong-doing at 69 agency medical facilities, up from 42 two weeks ago. He said he has discussed evidence of manipulated data with the Justice Department, which he said was still considering whether crimes occurred.