WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Baldwin placed a hold on President Obama’s nominee to be the next inspector general at the Department of Veterans Affairs because she is concerned the inspector general’s office is keeping Congress and the public in the dark about problems at the VA.

The Wisconsin Democrat cited a USA TODAY report Wednesday that revealed the current acting inspector general, Linda Halliday, has not released reports with the findings of wait-time investigations at 73 VA medical facilities across the country. In 51 cases, her office found scheduling issues but without the reports, it’s impossible to know where, how serious they were, and whether veterans died awaiting care.

“I will hold the nomination of the VA inspector general until I receive a commitment that the inspector general’s office will change business as usual and start releasing these reports publicly so we can put solutions in place that solve problems at the VA,” Baldwin said.

Halliday said Thursday she hopes to start releasing the reports next week. She told lawmakers at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing her office is in the process of removing personal information from them, such as witness or patient names.

“It was never my intention not to be transparent on this,” she said.

Halliday did not say when that process began. The investigations started nearly two years ago after the wait-time scandal erupted at the Phoenix VA, where at least 40 veterans died waiting for care. Her office’s reports on the findings were finished more than two months ago.

Obama signed a law in December requiring the VA inspector general to release investigation reports within three days, but Halliday’s office said that doesn’t apply to the wait-time reports.

That legislation had been co-authored by Baldwin after the inspector general failed to release a report in 2014 on dangerous prescribing practices at a VA in Tomah, Wis. Five months later, Veteran Marine Jason Simcakoski, 35, died from a fatal mixture of drugs prescribed there.

Last fall, Obama nominated Washington lawyer Michael Missal to be a permanent inspector general, but he has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Baldwin is not the first to place a hold on his nomination.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., had held it up earlier this month after Halliday’s office denied his request that her office work with an outside authority to investigate poor care at VA facilities in his state.

He said previous investigations by her office had been less than thorough and care had not improved as a result. He lifted that hold earlier this week after Halliday agreed to investigate in conjunction with outside oversight.

At Thursday’s hearing, subcommittee Chairman Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., highlighted the importance of her office’s release of the wait-time reports.

“Without the release to the public, no one really knows how severe the problem is or where the problem centers are,” he said.

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., pleaded for information about the wait-time issues at facilities in her state.

“I need for you to give the people I represent, the veterans I represent, assurance that you’re going to give us some kind of information so that we can continue to move forward on improving veterans’ health,” she said.

Halliday said she has a team of people working on their release, including some brought in from the field and working on overtime.

The VA asked her office to investigate 111 VA medical facilities in 37 states and Puerto Rico in June 2014 after a preliminary audit found potential wait-time manipulation. As of December 9, probes at 73 of those had been completed and a total of 77 reports on the findings were completed. Halliday said she hopes to release them in batches over the coming weeks.

Halliday has been acting inspector general since July, when the previous interim inspector general, Richard Griffin, stepped down amid criticism of his office’s investigations and secrecy. A USA TODAY investigation had found the office had not released 140 investigation reports on veteran’s health care since 2006.

Under federal law, the Office of Inspector General is charged with conducting independent investigations of fraud and mismanagement within the VA and keeping Congress “fully and currently” informed of its findings.

 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/02/25/sen-tammy-baldwin-va-wait-time-investigation-reports/80940030/