Close Menu

10 years after Phoenix VA scandal, veterans still wait for lifesaving care

By Tim Taylor

Ten years ago, news broke of scandal at the Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility. Staffers were keeping two sets of wait lists for appointments – the fake one in their scheduling system to create the appearance of short waits and the real one, kept outside the system, with much longer wait times.  

Veterans waited weeks or months to be seen by doctors; dozens died while on those secret lists.  

The Phoenix VA scandal snowballed into revelations that manipulation was common practice at many VA facilities, preventing veterans from receiving lifesaving care.  

After the scandal broke, Congress took steps to allow veterans to use their VA benefits outside the VA, ultimately passing the VA MISSION Act, which created greater access to community care for veterans across the country.   

But the problems persist as VA stands in the way of progress. Phoenix veterans like me still feel the need for change every day.  

I’ve faced barrier after barrier in my limited interactions with the benefits side of VA, so I’m pessimistic about what’s in store for me should I ever need the health care side. I’ve always thought that some version of health coverage is better than nothing, but from the stories my veteran friends share, I’m not sure that’s true.  

Getting basic health care from the Phoenix VA is still a struggle. We’re running a metaphorical obstacle course of needing unnecessary documentation, having our appointments canceled on us, waiting months for care, getting bounced around waiting for referrals, having our medical tests mismanaged, and working with staff who are required to administer a terrible process. The good people at the VA feel as beaten down by the system as the veterans they serve.  

The burden of navigating this bureaucratic maze is compounded by our service-connected afflictions. It’s demoralizing and defeating to beg the VA for help with our chronic pain or severe depression, only to be put on hold or have our appointments canceled without our knowledge.  

It’s no wonder the veteran suicide epidemic is raging. I lost a Marine friend to suicide after he was sent in circles by the VA without any actual delivery of care.   

The bureaucracy causes real deaths and friends left behind to mourn and fear they may be headed for the same fate.  

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit confirm the VA continues to manipulate wait times, and that VA staff dissuade veterans from using community care or neglect to offer it.  

The VA MISSION Act was a necessary step to build the foundation for reform, but it’s clear that Congress needs to take further steps to ensure VA complies with the letter and spirit of that law instead of standing in the way of veterans’ health care choice. Luckily, a solution has been presented.  

The Veterans Health Care Freedom Act would transform the way we care for veterans. The bill would give all veterans who use VA health benefits, not just those facing long waits or driving distances for appointments, access to use their health benefits at the VA or any independent community care provider. Veterans would be in the driver’s seat, empowered to make the health care choices that work best for them without having to ask bureaucrats for permission to go outside the VA, as is current practice.  

This law can’t be passed soon enough. With thousands more veterans flooding into the VA system because of PACT Act benefits, the VA needs measures in place to ensure we all get the care we need and earned, regardless of where it comes from, to relieve pressure on VA facilities and reduce wait times. It’s a win for everyone.  

The tenth anniversary of the Phoenix VA scandal is the perfect time for veterans and advocates to renew the call for America to honor its promise of care and support the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act.  


Tim Taylor is a grassroots engagement director with Concerned Veterans for America in Arizona and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.