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Former four-star Gen. Eric Shinseki, now secretary of veterans affairs, has been under pressure for weeks. Allegations are swirling of secret waiting lists at a veterans' health care system in Phoenix, Arizona, that may be linked to more than 40 deaths.
Shinseki sat before a panel of Veterans Affairs Committee members in the Senate on Thursday, swearing to find answers and fix the problems.
"Any adverse incident like this makes me mad as hell," Shinseki said. "I could use stronger language, but in deference to the committee, I won't."
The charges underscore a crisis within the veteran benefits system, which has seen backlogs and bureaucracy challenges for years.
"This is not new news," asserted the committee chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. "These concerns did not arise yesterday or in Phoenix. There have been reports by the inspector general and the General Accounting Office on numerous occasions about problems having to do with scheduling and with waiting lists."
Veterans Affairs dysfunction
“This is not new news. These concerns did not arise yesterday. They did not arise in Phoenix. There have been reports by the inspector general and the General Accounting Office on numerous occasions about problems having to do with scheduling and with waiting lists.”
— Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
One of those veterans hurt by long waits is Mark Creaney, whose unit in the Vietnam War was exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical that can cause severe nerve damage.
"There were outright promises from the military that they would care for us," said Creaney.
Last spring, Creaney's doctor recommended an urgent operation to treat his glaucoma.
"It was at least four months before I got to see a VA eye doctor," he said.
By the time he received surgery, it was too late.
"I can't read, I can't see street signs, I can only see colors and shapes. I can't see much in low light conditions," he said.
In Texas, one VA scheduling clerk came forward to Al Jazeera America admitting there was a systematic hiding of patient wait times.
"There are a number of clerks that would substantiate the claims of the coaching of changing the dates to make it look like we have a shorter wait time," said scheduling clerk Brian Turner.
It was at least four months before I got to see a VA eye doctor.
Vietnam War veteran
Back in Washington, Shinseki insisted at Thursday's hearing that as a wounded Vietnam veteran himself, he would not stand for schedule gaming if it's true.
"If there's anything that gets me angrier than just hearing allegations is to hear you to tell me that we have folks that can't be truthful because they think that the system doesn't allow it," said Shinseki.
President Barack Obama has assigned Rob Nabors, one of his closest advisers, to oversee a review of Veterans Affairs policies.
The results of an audit by the VA inspector general are expected in the coming weeks.
What are we to make of the revelations of such widespread problems and cover-ups in VA hospitals?
How can the VA solve this if it's true?
We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.