"No veteran should ever have to wait to receive the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice," Gibson said in Phoenix. "As the president said last week, we must work together to fix the unacceptable, systemic problems in accessing VA health care. I believe that trust is the foundation for everything we do. VA must be an organization built on transparency and accountability."
That, he said, is why VA will release results next week from its nationwide audit, along with patient access data, for all of its medical centers. The data will demonstrate the extent of the systemic problems the audit discovered, he added.
The audit was presented to the White House last week and prompted the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinsheki.
"As a veteran, I assure you I have the passion and determination to fix these problems – one veteran at a time," Gibson said.
The inspector general confirmed VA has serious issues when it comes to patient scheduling and access, Gibson said, and the department has moved immediately to address those issues in Phoenix.
"VA has reached out to all veterans identified in the Office of Inspector General's interim report to discuss individual medical needs and immediately begin scheduling appointments," he said. "Getting this right is our top priority, and taking care of the veterans here in Phoenix is a good place to start.
"We are using our current authority to immediately provide care in the community, to include primary care," he continued. "In Phoenix, VA is working to award a contract which will extend the ability to use non-VA providers in the community for primary care."
Additionally, he said, VA has deployed a dedicated human resources team to support the hiring of additional staff. "We are using temporary staffing measures, along with clinical and administrative support, to ensure these veterans receive the care they have earned through their service," he added. "That includes three of our mobile medical units to take care of patients right here. That's our first priority: to get all veterans off waiting lists and into clinics."
But more work remains, the acting secretary acknowledged.
"We now know there is a leadership and integrity problem among some of the leaders of our health care facilities, which can and must be fixed," he said. "That breach of integrity is indefensible. In Phoenix, we initiated the process to remove senior leaders. Across the country, VA has suspended all [Veterans Health Administration] senior executive performance awards for [fiscal year] 2014. We will use all authority at our disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders."
VA also will remove the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts to eliminate any incentives to engage in inappropriate behavior, Gibson said, will revise, enhance and deploy scheduling training, and will continue medical center audits and site inspections.
"Veterans must feel safe walking into our VA facilities. They deserve to have full faith in their VA," he said. "I will not hold back from asking for help from other agencies, from community partners, from Congress – both sides of the aisle – or from the veterans service organizations, who have been serving veterans for decades. They are all our valuable partners.
"We will need the support of all our stakeholders to continue to improve the department," he continued. "I look forward to working with them all to better serve our veterans."
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