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Sen. McCain speaks on Tucson VA staffing crisis

Posted at 10:21 PM, Feb 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-23 13:30:08-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - For the first time, we hear from Senator John McCain on the Tucson VA staffing shortage.
But one veteran advocate says McCain's effort is too little too late and he's calling for more drastic measures.
Ed Wagner is a Vietnam war veteran. He's not only been fighting for better care at the Southern Arizona VA for himself. He has advocated for patients in pain, those who are stuck in the scheduling system, and doctors who fear retaliation for reporting severe problems with care because of severe staffing shortages.
"They've treated our doctors very poorly at this Tucson VA," said Wagner.
He reached out to Senator John McCain. His letters to McCain date back to 2008.
He says McCain responded with letters "pointing us in the direction. Here's where you go to get help. Or I've sent a letter to so and so asking them to reach out to you. But he's never really truly done anything to get involved. So basically he's done nothing."
Wagner hasn't been the only one pleading for help.
KGUN9 has a dozen letters from current and former Tucson VA staff sent to McCain outlining problems of long wait times, poor treatment of doctors and patients, falsified documents, and appointment manipulation.
KGUN9 called Senator John McCain.  His response, "We handle literally thousands of cases before our office -- both in Phoenix and Tucson. Everyone of them we thoroughly look at ourselves and then try to get investigated by the (VA) Office of Inspector General and the (VA) Office of Special Council. There is whistleblower retaliation going on. Every time we have an allegation we demand an investigation. And sometimes we succeed and sometimes we do not, but believe me, it is of the highest priority."
But Wagner argues that approach is not working. "Here we need the Justice Department or the FBI. Somebody outside that doesn't have their title in their name VA because they can't be trusted. They are either incompetent -- inept -- just like our elected officials, who really don't give a damn," he said.
Meantime, according to McCain, real reform won't come any time soon.
"These problems will continue with the VA I'm afraid for some period of time and they are throughout the VA. And we're going to have to keep working on it case by case, person by person."
That means suffering veterans and Tucson VA workers, who fears retaliation, will have to wait for their cases to come up.
But Wagner has no intentions of giving up the fight for urgency.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald is testifying before a senate committee on the VA's funding needs for fiscal 2017.
McCain is urging McDonald to address serious questions that still remain more than a year after the phoenix scandal and reform legislation was signed into law. He wants the VA Secretary to speak truthfully about the VA's failures.