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NM lawmakers slam ABQ VA’s refusal to provide data

WASHINGTON – New Mexico’s congressional delegation is demanding answers from the Veterans Affairs Department after Albuquerque VA officials told congressional staffers this week that they must submit federal Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about VA health care policies.

All five delegation members – Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, Democratic Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján, and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce – signed a letter to Sloan D. Gibson, the acting VA secretary, on Thursday.

The letter said the Albuquerque VA’s insistence that members of Congress file official requests for information showed “an alarming ignorance or an utter disregard” for congressional oversight.

The letter stems from a conference call on Monday with staffers for the New Mexico congressional delegation and top staff at the Albuquerque VA, including interim Director Dr. James Robbins.

Ongoing issues at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, punctuated by the June 30 death of Jim Napoleon Garcia, a Vietnam War veteran who collapsed in the hospital’s cafeteria, prompted the call.

“We have frequently asked the VA Hospital to provide us with its written policies and practices related to scheduling, patient wait time, bonus and performance award system, and general management issues including how schedulers are trained,” the congressional delegation’s letter said. “However, VA Hospital staff has repeatedly denied this information to us and most recently told our offices that we must file Freedom of Information Act requests for all written VA Hospital documentation. Such responses tremendously impede our constitutional responsibility to oversee the faithful execution of the laws we pass.”

Officials at the Albuquerque VA did not respond to a request for comment from the Journal about the letter on Thursday.

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