VA Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over after Eric
Shinseki resigned on Friday over the care delay scandal, said he
would swiftly address the misconduct or mismanagement that led to
cover-ups of long appointment delays for veterans.
"VA's first priority is to get all Veterans off waiting lists and
into clinics while we address the underlying issues that have been
impeding Veterans' access to healthcare," Gibson said in a
statement. "The president has made clear that this is his
President Barack Obama appointed Gibson to take over the sprawling
healthcare and benefits agency while the White House searches for a
permanent replacement for Shinseki. Gibson, an Army veteran and
former banker, joined the VA in February as deputy secretary after
running the USO military service organization.
The management change came as an initial VA internal audit found
that nearly two-thirds of VA health facilities surveyed were
misrepresenting waiting times for veterans.
The agency's inspector general is conducting probes into 42 separate
VA healthcare location and has said that misstatement of waiting
times was a widespread problem for the agency.
"Systemic problems in scheduling processes have been exacerbated by
leadership failures and ethical lapses. I will use all available
authority to swiftly and decisively address issues of willful
misconduct or mismanagement," Gibson said.
Without going into specifics of his near-term action plan, he said
the VA will work with veterans groups, members of Congress,
academia, public and private organizations and other institutions
that can help with longer-term reforms.
Congress is already working to give Gibson new authorities,
including a measure passed last month by the House of
Representatives that would make it easier to fire or demote
employees for poor job performance.
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In the Senate, Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who chairs the
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has proposed a broader bill that
would provide some additional firing authority but with more
protections for employees. It would also expand veterans benefits
and authorize emergency funding to hire new doctors.
Republicans are already criticizing Sanders' plan as too ambitious
Senator Richard Burr, the top Republican on the committee, said he
did not want a "Christmas tree" of new spending for the agency and
will introduce a Republican-proposed bill on Tuesday that will be
more narrowly targeted to address the VA's healthcare scheduling
The Republican-proposed bill will adopt the House's tougher language
on removing employees, said Burr, who is from North Carolina.
"Money’s not the problem, it’s having a functional VA," Burr said.
But if down the road, once we reform it, if they need more money,
the Congress will respond to it.”
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell)
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