The Veterans Affairs Department is set to fire 35 VA employees in response to the discovery nearly 100,000 veterans did not receive timely access to health care, said Robert McDonald, the new Veterans Affairs secretary. The scandal led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last May. The VA also unveiled a plan to improve customer service and coordination.
After announcing the firings, McDonald told CNN 1,000 other agency employees may also be punished. “We’re taking disciplinary action against those individuals who violated our values,” McDonald said.
Disciplinary action was taken against 5,600 VA employees this year, he said, including some who are still with the federal agency. “We’re acting aggressively, expeditiously and consistent with the law,” McDonald said.
The VA hospital scandal broke in May when it was revealed 1,700 veterans were put on secret waiting lists at the Phoenix VA hospital. The lists were made to hide the length of time it took for veterans to see a doctor. Fourteen-hundred more veterans had to wait more than 90 days to see a primary care doctor at the Phoenix facility. VA hospitals in the Midwest were found to have similar problems.
Veterans Affairs is establishing a position called chief customer service office, who will report to McDonald, the agency announced in a statement Monday. The department is also creating new “VA-wide customer service organization to ensure we provide top-level customer service to veterans. ... The mission of the new office will be to drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our veteran customers.”
The agency also said it would improve coordination through a national network of community veterans advisory councils “to coordinate better service delivery with local, state and community partners.”
It’s unclear how long it will take to roll out the reforms.
“Please keep in mind that this is a long-term process and we are just beginning to plan how this will all unfold,” McDonald said. “I know there are a lot of questions about this effort, and I know that there will be concerns. We don’t have all the answers right now, and that’s why we are reaching to you for your thoughts. This will be a fair and deliberate process, and we need your help to make sure our decisions are the right ones for veterans.”