After VA Scandal in Phoenix, Walz Seeks Answers on Local Veteran Care

Updated: 05/14/2014 10:49 PM
Created: 05/14/2014 10:46 PM
By: Steph Crock

(ABC 6 News) -- A former clinic director for the VA in Phoenix alleges that up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix Hospital, and that staff created a secret system to hide delays in treatment. The alarming news sent Congressman Tim Walz around the state on a mission to see if it’s happening here. We were at his stop in Rochester.

ABC News is reporting up to 40 have died in that time, some going 21 months before seeing a doctor. "I didn't think they could do things like that, I really didn't," said Rochester Veteran Wayne Uptagrafft. He couldn’t believe the news and neither could Congressman Tim Walz.

"It's disheartening, so disappointing, and to be very honest with you, it makes us, this group here and others, so angry," said Congressman Walz. He spoke Wednesday at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Rochester, just one stop of a number he’s making to ensure Minnesota isn't following in those footsteps.

"Is what's happening in Phoenix happening here?... and I got the answer, ‘to the best of our knowledge and everything we know, that it is not happening here,’" said Congressman Walz. However, he says he's not stopping there. "Then I asked them to provide data on the wait times, who's waiting, where they're waiting, how long it takes to get an appointment, and why, if there's a case of wait time exceeding the standard of 14 days, is that happening?"  he said.

Those we spoke with say they're happy with the VA care locally. "I got in because of the fine service representatives that we have here in Rochester. We are very fortunate. They do an excellent job, not just for me, but for all veterans," said Uptagrafft. He hopes things straighten out elsewhere for his fellow veterans and their families.

Congressman Walz says face-to-face audits for the upper Midwest were ordered by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Wednesday. St Cloud's preliminary report is done, and Minneapolis is being assessed tomorrow. As of now, there's no sign of any hidden lists or problems like seen in Phoenix, but specific findings will be released soon.