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Chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee weighs in on VA hospital deaths

Tuesday - 5/6/2014, 10:27am  ET

"For them not to be able to keep track of the veterans and their records is just abysmal."

Chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fl., discusses VA hospital deaths.

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WASHINGTON -- Dozens of U.S. veterans have died while waiting for care at veterans hospitals around the country, according to a CNN report, and the chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee says the department's head should be held accountable if the reports are verified.

The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged to CNN that 23 veterans had died as a result of delayed care in recent years. A Phoenix VA hospital has been under fire over allegations that up to 40 patients may have died because of delays in care and that the hospital kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide the treatment delays.

The wait times lasted more than a year in some cases -- during which some of the veterans died, according to CNN.

The Phoenix VA denies the existence of a secret wait list, CNN reports.

The office of the inspector general is investigating the reports and will present findings in 30 to 45 days.

If the reports are true, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fl., who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, says he will call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.

Veteran groups, The American Legion and Concerned Veterans for America called for Shinseki's resignation Monday.

"If the facts bear out what the evidence that we have shows, most definitely I will follow what The American Legion and Concerned Veterans for America have done, and that is call for the secretary's resignation," Miller said on WTOP Tuesday.

In response to the deaths at the VA medical center in Pheonix, Shinseki placed Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman and two other staffers on administrative leave. Shinseki released a statement saying, "the allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable."

Miller says the problem is systemic in nature.

"Unfortunately, the bureaucracy has not moved in a fashion that any of us would want to see and the secretary -- who is a member of President Obama's cabinet -- has absolutely been kept in the dark on many of the facts and issues that surround not only this case, but others that we've uncovered across the country," Miller said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs lacks excuses for the behavior, Miller said. Congress has provided the requested funding, personnel and equipment, he says.

"In the 21st century where we have spent over a billion dollars helping the department become more electronic in their record keeping, for them not to be able to keep track of the veterans and their records is just abysmal."

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