Moving Forward After VA Loses Top Leader

Following the swell of controversy over allegations of misconduct, records falsification, and apparent systemic problems deep within the VA health care system, fellow disabled veteran Eric K. Shinseki resigned as Secretary of Veterans Affairs in late May. His decision to take responsibility for these actions opens the opportunity for new leadership to implement solutions necessary to fix the issues that ultimately led to such a large-scale crisis.

Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, named in Shinseki’s place, has vowed swift corrective actions to the extent of his authority, per the findings of system-wide audit.

The audit found more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting in excess of 90 days for an appointment at VA facilities, with an additional 64,000 requesting medical care but never making it onto VA’s waiting list.

Secretary Gibson has mandated immediate changes to the health care system, to include: the implementation of new patient satisfaction measures to collect real-time data from veterans on the services and care they receive; removal of the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts; independent, external audits of scheduling practices; a hiring freeze at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) central office and 21 VHA Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) regional offices to establish suitable leadership; and increased accountability of senior leadership at problematic facilities or clinics.

Specific to the VA facility in Phoenix, where allegations first arose, Secretary Gibson has directed additional resources to immediately address scheduling, access and resources issues to include the hiring of additional staff, deployment of mobile medical units to care for veterans awaiting care, modifying contract operations so veterans can obtain community-based care when needed, and removing senior leaders as appropriate. These reforms will apply to all affected facilities indicated by the audit.

DAV’s legislative staff continues to address Congress on the issue of proper funding within VA as it relates to the access crisis. Infrastructure and information technology have been chronically underfunded despite the recommendations of the Independent Budget, produced annually by DAV in concert with other veteran service organizations. These recommendations have gone ignored by lawmakers each year, despite warnings that shortfalls would potentially lead to the imbalance between VA health care availability and veteran demand.