VA apologizes for error in patient-death report

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VA apologizes for error in patient-death report
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, accompanied by House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, to outline their agreement on a compromise plan to fix the vast health care system responsible for treating the nation's veterans. A bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill's chief supporters said Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., take the stairs to a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, about a bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care that would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, followed by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., emerges from Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Responding to the public outcry over lax care at Veterans Affairs health facilities, leaders of both parties plan debate soon on a bill to help vets waiting for months to get medical appointments. The House of Representatives advanced a VA reform bill today that passed 421-0. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses while speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, after a Democratic caucus lunch. Responding to the public outcry over lax care at Veterans Affairs health facilities, leaders of both parties plan debate soon on a bill to help vets waiting for months to get medical appointments. The House of Representatives advanced a VA reform bill today that passed 421-0. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, after a Democratic caucus lunch. Responding to the public outcry over lax care at Veterans Affairs health facilities, leaders of both parties plan debate soon on a bill to help vets waiting for months to get medical appointments. The House of Representatives advanced a VA reform bill today that passed 421-0. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left: Harry C. Taylor II, Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, W.Va., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Charles Bridges, Administrative Law Judge, Harrisburg, Pa., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Gerald I. Krafsur, Administrative Law Judge, Kingsport, Tenn., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; James A. Burke, Administrative Law Judge, Albuquerque, N.M., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; are sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, prior to testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing regarding social security and disability benefits. Four Social Security judges are facing accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Harry C. Taylor II, Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, W.Va., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing regarding social security and disability benefits. Four Social Security judges are facing accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
From left: James A. Burke, Administrative Law Judge, Albuquerque, N.M., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Harry C. Taylor II, Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, W.Va., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Gerald I. Krafsur, Administrative Law Judge, Kingsport, Tenn., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Charles Bridges, Administrative Law Judge, Harrisburg, Pa., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing regarding social security and disability benefits. Four Social Security judges are facing accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, shakes hands with House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, during a news conference as they outlined their agreement on a compromise plan to fix the vast health care system responsible for treating the nation's veterans. A bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill's chief supporters said Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., leaves a Republican caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 25, 2014, on the influx of illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. With Congress scheduled to recess in a week, Miller and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, have offered competing proposals to fix the veterans' health care program that has been scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up the delays. (AP Photo)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, joined by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., right, calls on a reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, on the Veterans Administration. The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees offered competing new proposals to fix a veterans health care program scandalized by long waits and falsified records covering up the delays. (AP Photo)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with reporters about the border crisis, veterans' health care, and future funding, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014. House Republicans and Senate Democrats are at an impasse on dealing with tens of thousands of young migrants showing up at the southern border, leaving any solution unclear with Congress' annual August recess looming. (AP Photo)
Department of Veterans Affairs acting secretary Sloan Gibson pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee to outline his actions for restoring trust to the beleaguered agency. (AP Photo)
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., holds up two pages of resource requests from the Department of Veterans Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, as he questions Department of Veterans Affairs acting secretary Sloan Gibson on how to restore trust to the beleaguered agency. (AP Photo)
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson, left, accompanied by Assistant Deputy Undersecretary For Health For Administrative Operations Philip Matkowsky, pauses while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, 2014, before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the state of VA health care in the wake of revelations of neglect and delayed medical visits. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson, foreground, answers reporters' questions about improvements within the medical care system during a visit to the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., Friday, July 11, 2014. During the visit, Gibson met with the medical center's staff and some veterans. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner testifies before a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. A federal investigative agency is examining 67 claims of retaliation by supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs against employees who filed whistleblower complaints--including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing health care scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public. The independent Office of Special Counsel said 30 of the complaints about retaliation have passed the initial review stage and were being further investigated for corrective action and possible discipline against VA supervisors and other executives. The complaints were filed in 28 states at 45 separate facilities, Lerner said. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Katherine Mitchell, M.D., medical director, Iraq and Afghanistan Post-Deployment Center, Phoenix VA Health Care System, left, looks on as Scott Davis, program specialist, VA National Health Eligibility Center, testifies before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the Department of Veteran Affairs supplying inadequate services, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner is sworn in prior to testifying before a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. A federal investigative agency is examining 67 claims of retaliation by supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs against employees who filed whistleblower complaints--including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing health care scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public. The independent Office of Special Counsel said 30 of the complaints about retaliation have passed the initial review stage and were being further investigated for corrective action and possible discipline against VA supervisors and other executives. The complaints were filed in 28 states at 45 separate facilities, Lerner said. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Men sit outside the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., Thursday, July 3, 2014. A veteran who collapsed in an Albuquerque Veteran Affairs hospital cafeteria 500 yards from the emergency room, died Monday, June 30, 2014, after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance, officials confirmed Thursday. Officials at the hospital said it took a half an hour for the ambulance to be dispatched and take the man from one building to the other, which is about a five minute walk. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
The entrance to the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., is seen Thursday, July 3, 2014. A veteran who collapsed in an Albuquerque Veteran Affairs hospital cafeteria 500 yards from the emergency room, died Monday, June 30, 2014, after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance, officials confirmed Thursday. Officials at the hospital said it took a half an hour for the ambulance to be dispatched and take the man from one building to the other, which is about a five minute walk. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., left, shakes hands with Katherine Mitchell, M.D., medical director, Iraq and Afghanistan Post-Deployment Center, Phoenix VA Health Care System, right, as witnesses Jose Mathews, M.D., former chief of psychiatry, St. Louis VA Health Care System; Christian Head, M.D., associate director, chief of staff, Legal and Quality Assurance, Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System, look on at the start of the committee's hearing on the Department of Veteran Affairs supplying inadequate services, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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By MATTHEW DALY

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Department of Veterans Affairs has apologized for what it called an "inadvertent" mistake that underreported the number of deaths linked to delays in cancer treatment at VA medical facilities.

"VA inadvertently caused confusion in its communication" of a review of cases involving patient harm or deaths linked to delays in treatment for gastrointestinal cancers, the agency said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.

The VA apologized for the error and said, "There was no intent to mislead anyone with respect to the scope or findings of these reviews."

A lawmaker who has been leading oversight of the beleaguered agency was unsatisfied.

"Even though landmark VA reform legislation has been signed into law, it seems the same sort of dishonesty and deception that caused the VA scandal is continuing unabated at the Department of Veterans Affairs," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

The dispute centers on a VA "fact sheet" distributed to Congress in April. The report said a review of 250 million cases dating to 1999 showed 23 veterans with gastrointestinal cancers had died under questionable circumstances related to treatment delays.

The department said in a statement Thursday that officials had actually reviewed only 11,000 cases over a two-year period, from October 2009 to September 2011, and found that 24 veterans had died.

Miller called the discrepancy "a blatant attempt to mislead Congress, the press and the public" by manipulating the number of deaths linked to treatment delays.

"To chalk all this up to a misunderstanding ... doesn't pass the smell test," Miller said, noting that former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and other officials had cited the April fact sheet as evidence that treatment delays had caused relatively few deaths over a 15-year period.

The VA said the confusion occurred because several reviews were underway at the same time, including two that became "intertwined in written and oral statements, leading to confusion" that reached all the way to up to Shinseki, who repeated the 1999 claim in comments to reporters after a Senate hearing in May.

Miller called on Robert McDonald, the new VA secretary, to launch an investigation to "find out who hatched this plot" and fire those responsible.

A law signed Thursday by President Barack Obama is intended to help veterans avoid months-long waits for health care and crack down on VA employees who cover up long wait times or perform poorly.

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