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Congressman Hultgren asks for veterans to report mistreatment amid VA scandal

Published: Sunday, June 1, 2014 11:45 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 2, 2014 3:15 p.m. CDT

Behind the unfolding health care scandal at the VA hospital are real people, real veterans, and a local congressman wants to hear from them.

Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, is calling on the Inspector General to expand its investigation into the health care system that serves 8.76 million veterans each year at more than 1,700 sites nationwide.

Furthermore, Hultgren is asking veterans in his constituency, the 14th district, which covers all of McHenry County except Algonquin Township, to contact his office if they believe they’ve been taken advantage of or ignored by the Veteran’s Administration.

The VA has grabbed headlines recently after agency investigators reported widespread problems in its sprawling hospital system. Allegations have surfaced that employees at a Phoenix hospital were keeping a secret waiting list, and that some 1,700 veterans seeking treatment there were consigned to limbo because they had never been added to an official waiting list.

Suggestions have been made that up to 40 patients may have died while awaiting care.

The VA aims to give patients appointments within 14 days from when they first seek care. A spokeswoman for nearby Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, which has a branch in McHenry, says they have no reported waiting lists, “because these clinics currently have availability to accommodate new patients.”

When a new patient needs a primary care provider, it takes one or two days for the patient to be assigned to a primary care provider, explained the hospital’s spokeswoman Stephanie McCrobie.

Appointments are scheduled within 14 days, she said.

What’s further troubling, Hultgren said, is the connection the Chicago area has to the Phoenix hospital at the center of the controversy.

The current director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Sharon Helman, once served in a leadership role at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in suburban Chicago.

Helman has been placed on leave since the scandal surfaced.

“Did Ms. Helman cultivate her disturbing practices at Hines Hospital?” Hultgren said. “We must know how far and how deep this problem goes into the VA bureaucracy.”

Furthermore, a Hines employee made similar allegations of efforts to cover up delays in patient appointments at the hospital here.

Hultgren said there is no specific evidence indicating Hines uses secret lists, but it was enough for him to join Republican Sen. Mark Kirk in a call for expanding the investigation to include Hines.

“Although I am aware of no specific evidence outside of these allegations to indicate secret lists were used at Hines, the allegations themselves … to my mind are disconcerting enough to justify an expansion of the federal investigation.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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