Kansas Congressman Uncovers VA 'Gag Order'

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE)-- A Kansas Congressman says a surprise visit to the VA Hospital in Wichita, may have forced the VA to get rid of what he calls a nationwide "gag order."

Congressman Tim Huelskamp made an unannounced visit last week to the Dole VA Medical Center for answers, but he left with many unanswered questions.

"The staff and the director of the day did hand me the email from Washington that directed them to not talk to the media, not talk to members the Congress, not to talk to Veterans about the scandal," Huelskamp told KAKE news.

He says before his visit a nationwide email was sent out saying:

"Please immediately stand down on any further communications with stakeholders, delegation members, and others regarding the access audit, wait lists and accelerating care initiative."

He says this email is proof there was a nationwide gag order, proof that the VA is not being transparent as they claim. "You put that together with the VA that issued a national gag order, it looks like at some level there is a cover up going on," Huelskamp said.

But his bold move, his unannounced visit, may have opened up the lines of communication. The same day, hours after his visit and the original "gag order" email was sent, a revised version was sent out. "I guess pressure from me forced them to pull over that gag order," he said.

He believes his visit may have forced the VA to revise the gag order. The revised email said: "Let me clarify and add to my earlier message. Communication with stakeholders including veterans, veterans service organizations, the media, Congress and state and local officials remain a top priority."

Huelskamp says "if you are hiding stuff and covering up we're never going to find the real solution."

He says at a time when the VA faces lots of criticism all people want is transparency. "At the end of the day it's my job as a member of Congress to get to the bottom of this and make sure that our veterans get the care that they deserve."

Tuesday night, the House approved legislation to make it easier for patients going through delays for initial visits to get VA paid treatment from local doctors instead. The Senate will be voting on a similar bill soon.

Posted by Greg Palmer