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White House review of Veterans Administration finds 'corrosive culture'

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[June 28, 2014]  By Steve Holland
 WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A scathing review of the scandal-plagued U.S. Veterans Administration found significant and chronic failures across the board at the agency and that a corrosive culture prevails, the White House said on Friday.

The findings emerged after President Barack Obama met with acting Veterans Secretary Sloan Gibson and the White House official assigned to investigate the agency, Rob Nabors.

Widespread evidence of delays in military veterans getting healthcare at the VA's facilities prompted Obama to accept the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki late in May. He has yet to nominate a new secretary.

The White House review, which was conducted by Nabors, said the agency's 14-day scheduling standard for new patients to receive care is arbitrary, ill-defined and misunderstood.

Nabors found that while the VA generally provides high quality healthcare once patients get in the door, "it is clear that there are significant and chronic systemic failures that must be addressed by the leadership at VA."

Since the 14-day standard was included as a measure in employee performance contracts, it may have led to "inappropriate actions" by officials to meet the goal, the review found. The 14-day scheduling goal has now been removed from performance contracts.

"We can and must solve these problems as we work to earn back the trust of veterans," Gibson said in a statement.

The review was particularly critical in discussing the Veterans Health Administration, which manages the VA medical structure.

This part of the VA is marked by a lack of responsiveness and an inability to effectively manage or communicate to employees or veterans, and needs to be restructured and reformed, the review found.

"A corrosive culture has led to personnel problems across the department that are seriously impacting morale, and by extension, the timeliness of healthcare," the report found. It cited distrust between some VA employees, a history of retaliation toward employees who raise concerns, and a lack of accountability across the board.

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Obama has asked Nabors to remain on assignment at the VA temporarily to help the department.

The White House said a series of reforms have been started to ease the pressure with 135,000 veterans contacted, 182,000 additional appointments scheduled and more schedulers trained to handle the workload.

The VA oversees some 1,700 hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other facilities, making it the largest U.S. healthcare organization.

The review found the VA relies on a 1985 electronic health records system that predates the Internet, and cited a need for more doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The agency plans to bring in a new system in the coming year.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Sandra Maler and Richard Chang)

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