Former Phoenix VA employee talks about 'secret wait list'

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- The head of the Phoenix VA, Sharon Helman, says there was absolutely no secret list to hide patient delays. She is now on administrative leave and today, three tour of duty Iraqi veteran Troy Burmesch breaks his silence about working at a VA clinic between November 2012 and September 2013.

The Marine claims that before he was terminated for taking leave for his post-traumatic stress disorder, he had no idea that how he was taking in patient information was contributing to the secret lists that whistleblower Dr. Sam Foote claims hid patient delays at the hospital and led to up to 40 deaths while veterans awaited care.

Burmesch said, “We used them everyday and management was the one who implemented it and taught us how to use them.

"What we will do is we will take their demographic page and we will print it, and so that is their sheet and you print it off. You turn the page over and you write on the back, 'Needs new patient appointment,' and then you write the date. Then that sheet of paper goes into a folder in the back of the desk.”

He says they were told not to use the nationwide electronic wait list system, so administrators could report shorter wait times to their bosses in Washington, D.C.

“I had no idea why and why we weren't using the electronic wait list until now. Now it all makes perfect sense,” he said.

Now that he knows, he says, “It's terrible. It's kind of gut-wrenching.”

He also says he was there one day when a staff member called a patient who was on the list waiting for care.

“Her face just turned white and her jaw dropped," Burmesch recalled. "She hung up the phone after she said, 'Sorry,' and she goes, 'Oh my God, Troy, I just called a wife and her husband has already passed away.' "

He says as a veteran who lost fellow Marines on the battlefield it’s extremely difficult.

“There is no reason for that. It's totally disgusting. Its embarrassing,” he said.

Burmesch has a pending lawsuit against the VA for wrongful termination but hopes to one day work for the VA Hospital again under different management. He is now a student majoring in psychology and social work.

He says helping fellow veterans is his passion.

“You feel better just helping veteran. It's worth more than a paycheck any day,” he said.