Cronkite Header

Cronkite News has moved to a new home at Use this site to search archives from 2011 to May 2015. You can search the new site for current stories.

House panel threatens subpoenas of VA officials in Phoenix probe

Email this story
Print this story

WASHINGTON – A House committee voted unanimously Thursday to subpoena three Department of Veterans Affairs officials if they do not appear before the committee next week to address issues at the agency’s Phoenix offices.

The vote came one day after the full House gave overwhelming approval to a bill that would make it easier for the secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire or discipline agency executives whose actions “warrant such removal.”

Thursday’s vote by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs followed a subpoena earlier this month for VA emails relating to waiting lists for medical attention in the Phoenix area, reports of duplicate lists and delays that may have led to the deaths of some veterans.

The VA returned 200 emails to the committee Monday in response to that May 8 subpoena for documents. When committee members demanded Wednesday that agency officials appear Thursday to explain themselves, they were told that the officials would not be able to get to the hearing to testify.

“I get it, 15 hours is pretty quick,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the committee chairman. “But I don’t think I need to remind members of this committee that this is life or death.”

Miller noted that the VA was able to produce more than 3,000 emails – that were delivered around 2:30 a.m. Thursday. Throughout the hour-long hearing, committee members on both sides of the aisle voiced frustration about apparent unwillingness of the VA to turn over information.

“It’s very frustrating to me that the VA has not fully complied with our committee’s initial subpoena in a timely manner,” said Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, the senior Democrat on the committee.

That was echoed by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff.

“My colleagues and I are frustrated with the lack of information or urgency we’ve seen, so we are eager to hear directly from these top officials,” she said.

Calls Thursday to VA offices in Phoenix and Washington were not immediately returned.

In a message to veterans Thursday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said that more than 200 senior staff are involved in a national audit of the VA health system, in addition to an inspector general’s probe of charges at Phoenix and other facilities.

Shinseki had previously placed three top administrators in the Phoenix VA Health Care System on leave while the investigation was underway.

But Miller on Thursday criticized the VA for not letting the committee “search through emails,” instead of “selectively giving us emails.” He said that selectivity helps the VA shape the story, “instead of allowing us to do our constitutional duty of oversight and investigation.”

“It’s not very hard in this day and age to be able to give us the info we were asking for,” Miller said.

The committee voted to give three VA officials until Wednesday to make an appearance that they claimed they were unable to make Thursday. If the three do not appear voluntarily, the subpoena commanding their appearance on May 30 would take effect.

The three officials cited in the subpoena are Joan Mooney, assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs; Michael Huff, congressional relations officer; and Dr. Thomas Lynch, assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations and management.

Miller said it is not a partisan issue and should not become one. Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed, with both sides saying the threatened subpoena is a fair solution to a situation that has dragged on.

“Our votes for subpoenas have been bipartisan and unanimous – our committee takes its oversight role very seriously, and we expect the VA to be responsive,” Kirkpatrick said in a written statement after the hearing. “Especially when so many questions remain unanswered and so many veterans are waiting for care.”