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V.A. Scandal Erupts; Officials Say Flight 370 Not In Search Area

Aired May 29, 2014 - 08:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome once again to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, May 29th, 8:00 in the East.

The head of Veterans Affairs addressing a disturbing new report. In an opinion piece in this morning's "USA Today", Eric Shinseki calls the failures uncovered at the Phoenix V.A. reprehensible. And he says all veterans will get the care they need and get it quickly.

He's responding to the report confirming 1,700 veterans were waiting for treatment in Phoenix and they were essentially left to fend for themselves.

The White House now says Shinseki is on thin ice.

Last night, V.A. officials were hammered on Capitol Hill in an evening hearing.

Let's bring in White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski for the very latest details.

Every day, new details coming out, not of them good, Michelle. What's the very latest?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just listening to this hearing last night, whoa, four hours of these congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, absolutely ripping into representatives of the V.A. And they were asking these good relevant questions that for some reason the V.A. just couldn't answer.

In part, it was concerning this new official report on the Phoenix V.A. where the scandal broke. As you can imagine, reaction to it is just exploding.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you can stand in a mirror and look at yourself in the mirror and shave in the morning and not throw up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unforgivable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's question about destruction of documents and you don't even know who did it or the motive.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): The anger from Congress overflowed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is nearly a decade of excuses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The house is on fire, and nobody is going to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of you, I think, got to find somebody else to do.

KOSINSKI: And the V.A. bureaucrats at times squirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, Congressman. I don't know the specifics. We hope to get that done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no, that's not what you said a minute ago. You said we're going to do that. I think I heard you say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, we are going to get that done.

KOSINSKI: The House V.A. Committee detailed veterans' stories, one who tried to get a hearing aid for two years. Another in need of urgent care sent home for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They waited on a list, languishing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, I was focused on trying to improve the process. Believe me --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about 1,100 veterans --

KOSINSKI: The scandal only seems to get worse. This inspector general's preliminary report on the Phoenix VA spells it out. Systemic patient safety issues, possible wrongful deaths, significant delays. Lists all of the way to schedulers manipulated the system to hide the delays, secret waiting lists, documents that disappeared.

In Phoenix, there were 1,700 veterans waiting for appointments, but never entered into the computer system. More than 1,100 veterans waited an average of 200 days. Now fallout.

On CNN, Senator John McCain called for the V.A. secretary's resignation.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's time for General Shinseki to move on.

KOSINSKI: The president briefed on the latest developments found them deeply troubling. One White House official described Shinseki as being on thin ice. Some lawmakers are calling for a criminal investigation.

The Department of Justice has been reviewing the new information. And Shinseki himself has weighed in on the Phoenix report saying the V.A. will aggressively and fully implement the recommendations and calling the findings reprehensible.


KOSINSKI: It turns out, the V.A. has the ability to sort of farm out care to doctors outside the V.A. systems if it's overwhelmed. So, it's unclear why exactly it hasn't been doing that, but the V.A. says now that is what it will be doing, system-wide -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you very much, Michelle.

Let's bring in Drew Griffin. He and the CNN Special Investigations Unit first broke this story of deadly scheduling abuses at the V.A. facility in Phoenix. He's joining us now from our Washington bureau with more on a scandal that is breaking wide open this morning.

We're still in the learning phase, right, Drew? Still more that could be out there.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: You know, we are in the learning phase sort of, Chris. But as you saw in that interim report -- keep in mind it's an interim report from the OIG, which I found astonishing, because it lays out all the allegations as proof as to what's been going on in the V.A.

They say this delayed care is systemic. It is across the country. It's now being investigated in 42 different V.A. facilities. It was truly a damming report, and yet the V.A. is still trying to defend itself, particularly in Phoenix.

After that hearing, that four-hour hearing last night, I asked Dr. Lynch about this, quote, unquote, "secret list." The V.A. still denies there was a secret list in Phoenix. Listen.


DR. THOMAS LYNCH, ASSISTANT DEPUTY VA UNDERSECRETARY: I was working with what we could learn in Phoenix. I was working with what we learned from Dr. Foote and Dr. Mitchell, as they spoke with the press.

I think I could identify each of the elements as they were identifying as potential secret lists in terms of work flow that was occurring. I think there were lists, I don't think they're secret.

REP. JEFF MILLER (R-FL), CHAIR, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: There are secret lists, multiple lists at some facilities that we have found, even within areas of specialty. So this whole idea that it's a misunderstanding I think is a red herring, to try to claim that what they were doing was trying to provide quicker health care for the veterans. Let the facts speak for themselves.


GRIFFIN: Chris, Lynch was trying to tell me last night that the secret list was actually an interim work product that was destroyed. That may be what the V.A. is going to try to explain to those members of Congress. But I'm telling you, they are not buying it. CUOMO: So, what is the doctor's explanation for how this keeps happening within the system?

GRIFFIN: He believes there was a performance goal put in place a performance goal of making sure every veteran was seen within 14 days, and reaching that performance goal kind of lost track of what the actual goal was, which was to see the patients and get the health care delivered. He believes the various V.A. facilities across the country lost their way trying to reach this unreachable goal and started manipulating numbers to make that.

CUOMO: Let me bounce something off of you, Drew, and feel free to tell me I'm in the wrong direction. But when I hear Representative Miller and these other lawmakers so filled with huff and puff about how angry that are about this, they've been sitting on many of them, the Veterans Affairs Committee for years, for years. How much of their outrage over this is justified and how much should they be looking at themselves for how long they missed this?

GRIFFIN: You know, of course, up in Capitol Hill, there's a fair amount of fear in all these hearings. But the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Chris, has been trying to get information out of the V.A. for more than a year now. They have been absolutely stonewalled.

That hearing last night was taking place because they were not handing over the documents and still aren't handing over the documents that the House Veterans Affairs Committee has been asking for.

So, it's understandable that last night, there was a lot of anger because these officials showed up with absolutely no answers to the congressmen's question. But to the bigger point, I think there's a lot of blame going around, but members of Congress can't run the V.A. All they can do is give the V.A. enough money to run itself.

Honestly, both sides of the House have been giving the V.A. all the money that the V.A. has asked for, for years and years and years, and yet these problems persist for years and years and years.

CUOMO: All right, Drew. Thank you for tracking it down. This has taken some courage on your part as well. It is not easy to attack a system like this.

Stay on it. Thank you for being with us on NEW DAY.

GRIFFIN: Thanks.

CUOMO: Mick?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's get a look at your headlines. The NTSB investigating another near collision, this one over Anchorage, Alaska, Tuesday, involving an Alaskan Airlines flight and a cargo airplane.

Investigators say air traffic controllers asked the Alaska Airlines flight to perform a go-around, to avoid the cargo plane, but both planes veered in the same direction, coming within a quarter mile of one another. This is the fifth incident coming to light in two weeks.

Happening today at the White House, the first ever concussion summit. President Obama will host the day-long session on the dangers of sports-related head injuries, particularly for young athletes. He is expected to unveil a number of new initiatives by the NFL, NCAA and others helping to prevent and better manage concussions.

First Lady Michelle Obama taking her healthy food fight to "The New York Times." In an op-ed, she criticizes house lawmakers for threatening to roll back higher nutrition standards in school lunches and for considering adding foods not considered nutrient dense to the women and children's food voucher program. Mrs. Obama says the U.S. spends about $190 billion a year on obesity-related conditions that will only get worse if we don't manage the problem now.

Members of Congress want to let some schools opt out of those standards.

Obviously, a conversation we'll be having for some time. This is on going and lots of people have opinions on this.

What matters is our kids are getting some food and getting healthy food, right?

CUOMO: Right.

BOLDUAN: What I keep thinking is why is this entering the political realm?


BOLDUAN: I know.

PEREIRA: Shouldn't have to.

CUOMO: That's where the money is coming from.

PEREIRA: Fair enough. If they're paying the bills, they get a say. But don't forget our kids here.

BOLDUAN: Shouldn't be a political football, though.

Coming up next on NEW DAY: it's back to the drawing board it seems in the search for Flight 370. Officials say the pings they detected were not from the plane at all. So, what were they from? Most importantly, what does this all mean now for the search?


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY, friend.

Remember the pings many the Indian Ocean that everybody said were from Flight 370? Well, now, the U.S. Navy says they weren't. On top of that, officials say the plane isn't even in the area scoured by the Bluefin-21. It's all out of the water and now, no sign of the plane and nowhere really to go it seems. Let's discuss the future of the search and how this actually happened with CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo and CNN safety analyst David Soucie.

Help me understand, Mary Schiavo. Are they saying they know the pings didn't come from the plane because they know they came from someplace else? Or are they saying because they did not find the black box that was supposedly putting out the pings, they must therefore assume the pings were not from the plane.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think it's a little bit of a combination of both. They said they were skeptical because of the kilohertz didn't match up to what the pings were supposed to be, but now that they have -- and because they were far apart, they were farther apart than you'd expect the pings to be if they were from the two black boxes, the flight data recorder, cockpit voice recorder.

But now, they have completed the search and scoured the area where they should be, they have to conclude those were not the pings. So, it's a combination that the evidence was not accurate and now that we've searched, we know they weren't the pings.

CUOMO: A huge difference, a difference with a distinction, right, David. It's one thing if we can't find it. The other thing is we got it wrong initially, right?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Right. You know, it's tough to be critical during an investigation like this, especially having been an investigator myself. So it's tough to be critical, but at this point, I'm starting to get there because of the fact that we've been hearing it all along and we actually did our own investigation with CNN to determine what that other sound could have been at 33.3 kilohertz.

So, it's very frustrating that we knew weeks ago and they knew obviously now, weeks ago, even before the Bluefin finished its search that they were dramatically in question. So, my question is not should they have continued the investigation and the search, they should have at that point realized we need other equipment instead of waiting several weeks later to then now start bringing in additional equipment.

Why didn't do they do that sooner is my question?

CUOMO: What was going on, Mary? Were we getting carried away with the coverage? I mean, I remember Jeff Wise saying I don't think those came from the plane and got a beatdown. And the Australian prime minister, I remember him saying, no, we know the pings, we have great confidence in this.

Those things were happening, right?

SCHIAVO: Well, those things were happening. It's characteristic of an investigation. There's several biases -- and you're trained to guard against bias is. There's something called an anchoring bias, where the first clue you get, you latch on and run with it. Confirmation bias where the Inmarsat data says this is where the plane is. You go and get pings. That's confirmation of your theory.

And there are a lot of biases, and they happen in every investigation. You go down blind alleys. But I think that's what's happening here, the anchoring and confirmation biases. Everyone was so hopeful to find the plane that when they got the pings -- you know what? Even without that, they would have had to look. If they had those pings and were suspicious because the people and the plane are still missing, they had to look. There was no way they could not have done this.

CUOMO: There was suspicion offered up this morning that this is done by design, David Soucie, misdirection, that they with looking in the Indian Ocean because it's the farthest point on the globe and no one would ever know what really happened. The conspiracy theories are popping up. Is that fair or do you agree, as Mary was saying, this is the area they needed to search?

SOUCIE: I'm confident it's the area they needed to search. But I'm becoming less confident because of the fact that this misdirected information, whether intentional or not, I don't think it's intentional. I don't believe there's a conspiracy going on here. Just as Mary said, sometimes investigations going this way. I have to admit I'm starting to look at other things, other possibilities at this point.

CUOMO: What do you do, Mary? Each of you offer up one. So, if all of the Inmarsat data and everything else I don't understand leads you on these arcs that takes you to this region, where else can you look, Mary?

SCHIAVO: Well, Australia has already given us the clues that they were on to this some time ago. One of the things they're going to do is they're going to look at different way points, in order words, the highway in the sky, the way it used to fly before GPS, to see if the plane was following a way point route.

Now they're going to see if there's any data from the hydrophones, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Association.

So, you know, we started getting drips and drabs, as news out several days ago that Australia was offering up some possible search avenues and that's what I would do. I would look for other search avenues. Now, this one has dried up.

CUOMO: David?

SOUCIE: Then you're looking at grasping at straws. It looks like you're grasping at straws at that point. Again, it's the only information they have, not good information. They're in a difficult situation, there's no doubt about that.

But after looking at the Inmarsat data, I'd continue looking at the southern route. I do believe it's somewhere in that 23,000 square miles. Unfortunately, that's a huge area to look.

CUOMO: Can you say with confidence, either of you, both of you, it didn't land in some country and is sitting in a hangar, as speculated from the beginning that this southern route is just one possibility, but no more probable than anything else. Is it still the greatest probability, Mary Schiavo?

SCHIAVO: Yes. I think it's the greatest probability it's in the ocean and not in a hangar.

CUOMO: Soucie, same?

SOUCIE: One hundred percent, I agree with Mary.

CUOMO: All right. Guys, thank you very much. Obviously a setback, crushing to the families. Hopefully the information gets better.


BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, Edward Snowden not holding back and not regretting his actions. Is he a traitor or a patriot? Why he says he leaked classified information. We'll have much more on NBC's interview coming up.

And for the first time we're hearing from the family of the California killer, their first statement since Friday night's rampage. We'll have an inside look at their struggle to help their son.


PEREIRA: Here we go, five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

At number one, a White House official saying CNN, V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki is on thin ice after it's revealed 1,700 veterans in Phoenix were never scheduled or put on waiting lists despite requesting medical care.

A Navy official saying the pings picked up initially are not from the missing jetliner. The Bluefin-21 has now concluded its underwater search with no signs of the Malaysian airline.

Rebels have shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter over Slaviansk, as heavy fighting rages in eastern Ukraine. At least 14 people including a general were killed.

Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson facing tough immigration questions at a House Judiciary oversight hearing today. It's happening after the White House asked Johnson to delay his deportation policy review in order to keep hope alive on immigration reform.

And at number five, CNN learned as many as five groups are bidding to buy the L.A. Clippers with offers as high as $2 billion. NBA owners will vote on June 3rd to decide whether to terminate Donald Sterling's ownership after the racist remarks.

We always update the five things to know. So, be sure to visit, for very latest and freshest.

Chris? CUOMO: Thank you, Michaela.

So the family of the Santa Barbara shooter, they're not even mentioning his name anymore, this after years of trying to manage their son's mental illness. The killer's family is racked with guilt and the inevitable question, could we have done more?

I sat down with a close friend, Simon Astaire. He knows the family and recalls the moment they learned was a monster.


SIMON ASTAIRE, FAMILY FRIEND OF ELLIOT RODGER: The mother got the call at 9:15 to say have you received an e-mail from Elliot. She opens up the document and the manifesto is there and she reads the first four lines, and she immediately goes to YouTube because she realizes something is very wrong here. There is a video there entitled "Retribution."

She watches, she tells me, the first 20 seconds and she picks up the phone and rings her ex-husband, Peter, and Peter rings his ex-wife back and says, we have to go Santa Barbara. There's something seriously wrong here. So they get in the car, in the meantime shin has running 911. As she's ringing, the shoot-out is happening. On the way they've got the radio on and they are hearing reports of a massacre on the streets of Santa Barbara, and it's here that it's a black BMW that's involved, and they know their son has a black BMW.

And Peter said to me, at that moment, I knew he was the perpetrator. It was the longest journey of their lives and would suggest everyone's nightmare.

CUOMO: How has this affected them? How are they handling having lost their son but also knowing that he is responsible for the deaths of so many?

ASTAIRE: They are literally cut down in size. They're diminished in standing. They walk slowly, their con station is stilted. They are mourning the innocence that didn't come back to their family on Friday night.

They're not mourning their son. He is not part of their conversation.

CUOMO: What do you want people to know about how much they did try, how much they struggled with managing the mental illness of their son?

ASTAIRE: There is a sense that they tried everything. As I say, even the final night they were trying to rescue him. He's been having therapy since a young age. It's quite clear there is years of work there and years of dedication to try and help their son.

There's no blame. I don't hear blame. For instance, the police who went around Santa Barbara to his apartment, they have no blame for them whatsoever because, in a way, he had been fooling everyone for many years. The shame is that in the end, no one could rescue what had happened on Friday night. And what these boys who go out to kill don't understand, not talking that there's rationale in their madness, but what day they don't understand is when they murder one, they murder many because they don't just kill the people lying dead in the streets in apartments, in galleries or in cinema, they kill thousands of thousands of others who are connected to those.

I've seen that. We all die a little over something like this. I've noticed that clearly with my close friends who are stooped with grief. The tragedy is of what happened and the effect it has on not just a few but on millions.