At a press conference Wednesday, President Obama said that the inspector general for the VA "did not see a link" between veteran deaths and delays in care at VA hospitals. The president suggested that he can't take action until investigators "find out what exactly happened":
Q: Well, thank you, Mr. President. As you said, this is a cause of your presidency. You ran on this issue, you mentioned. Why was it allowed to get to this stage where you actually had potentially 40 veterans who died while waiting for treatment? That's an extreme circumstance. Why could it -- why could it get to that point?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we have to find out first of all what exactly happened. And I don't want to get ahead of the IG report or the other investigations that are being done.
And I think it is important to recognize that the wait times generally -- what the IG indicated so far, at least, is the wait times were folks who may have had chronic conditions, were seeking their next appointment, but may have already received service. It was not necessarily a situation where they were calling for emergency services. And the IG indicated that he did not see a link between the wait and them actually dying.
That does not excuse the fact that the wait times in general are too long in some facilities. And so what we have to do is find out what exactly happened.
It's true that the inspector general has not yet attributed deaths at the Phoenix VA to delays in care, but a VA internal review found a link between the deaths of 23 veterans and wait times at VA facilities. "Delays in endoscopy screenings for potential gastrointestinal cancer in 76 veterans treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are linked to 23 deaths, most of them three to four years ago, according to the VA," USA Today's Gregg Zoroya reported on April 8. "The delays occurred at 27 VA hospitals with deaths at 13 of the facilities. The worst record was at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn veterans hospital in Columbia, S.C., where there were 20 cases of delays and six deaths, according to a VA report."