MARION, Ill. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart said Thursday that he was pleased with the overall quality of care at the VA Medical Center in Marion but that there is room for improvement.

Letters from VA officials to some U.S. senators last week disclosed that problems with delayed care and unauthorized wait lists existed at several Midwest sites, including the one in Marion. Veterans who waited longer than 90 days for care included eight at the Marion hospital, which serves the southern parts of Illinois and Indiana, according to the letters.

Enyart told WSIL-TV that he believes that resulted from staffing shortages.

“You are looking at hundreds of medical professionals they need in this facility,” Enyart told the station.

In a statement posted on his website, Enyart said the Marion facility is actively working to recruit 200 additional full time employees, in addition to its 1,400 current full time employees.

“I’m pleased to see the overall quality of care here at Marion,” he said in the statement. “But there’s always room for improvement. I can’t speak to the entire VA system, but efforts are being made here at Marion for improved care.”

Enyart also made an unannounced visit to a VA outpatient post Thursday.

Enyart told the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale that a loan forgiveness program might be one way to recruit physicians to rural locations and attract their interests away from higher-paying, urban settings.

Enyart’s visit to the Marion VA facility came as a bill was introduced in Congress that would allow veterans who wait 30 days or more for VA appointments or who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic to use private doctors enrolled as providers for Medicare, military TRICARE or other government health care programs.

It also would let the VA immediately fire as many as 450 senior regional executives and hospital administrators for poor performance.

An investigation by the VA’s inspector general found broad problems with delays in patient care and manipulation of waiting lists throughout the VA health care system, which provides medical care to about 9 million veterans and family members.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson also said Thursday that an additional 18 veterans in the Phoenix area whose names were kept off an official electronic VA appointment list have died. That’s in addition to the 17 reported there last month by the VA’s inspector general.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Watch & Listen LIVE