In an exclusive interview with a Veterans Administration scheduler, CNN is reporting that staffers at the troubled Phoenix VA hospital have been altering records, deleting 'deceased' designations from the files of patients who died while waiting for care.
'Deceased' notes on files were removed to make statistics look better, so veterans would not be counted as having died while waiting for care, VA employee Pauline DeWenter told CNN.
DeWenter, a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA said she was ordered by supervisors to manage and handle the so-called "secret waiting list," where the names of veterans seeking medical care were often placed, and sometimes left for months with no care at all.
DeWenter's job was to call veterans when appointments became available to schedule them. Sometimes when she made those calls, she'd discover that the veteran had died, which she would then enter on their records.
At least seven times since last October, records that showed that veterans died while waiting for care -- records which DeWenter personally handled and had entered in details of veterans' deaths -- were physically altered, or written over, by someone else, DeWenter told CNN.
The changes, or re-writes, listed the veterans as living, not deceased, essentially hiding their deaths.
"Because by doing that, that placed (the veterans) back on the wait list," said DeWenter, explaining she believes that the purpose of "bringing them back to life" in the paperwork and putting the veterans back on the electronic waiting list was to hide the fact that veterans died waiting for care.
"I would say (it was done to) hide the fact. Because it is marked a death, " she explained. "And that death needs to be reported. So if you change that to, 'entered in error' or, my personal favorite, 'no longer necessary,' that makes the death go away. So the death would never be reported then."
DeWenter's claims support those of Dr. Sam Foote, now retired from the VA, who spoke to CNN in March and raised the red flag about Phoenix crisis, with allegations that up to 40 veterans had died while waiting for care.
Watch the video below from CNN: