VA deputy chief: More employees face punishment
DENVER (AP) — More Veterans Administration employees will be disciplined as the department sorts out a scandal over long waits for health care and falsified data, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said Tuesday.
The VA announced last week that it planned to fire two supervisors and discipline four other employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health-care data.
"These were the first in what I expect will be a long series of announcements of personnel actions," Gibson told the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization of veterans who received the medal for combat wounds. The group is holding its annual convention in Denver.
The VA has also said it plans to fire three executives of the Phoenix VA hospital.
Gibson offered no details about future disciplinary action and did not take questions.
The VA has been shaken by reports that veterans died while waiting for treatment and allegations that workers falsified records to cover up the delays — in some cases so the workers could collect bonuses.
The scandal forced out former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Gibson served as acting secretary until Robert McDonald was sworn in last week.
A leadership failure was a major cause of the VA's crisis, along with an antiquated system for scheduling appointments and a shortage of space and medical personnel, Gibson said.
The veterans applauded when Gibson reiterated that the VA has suspended bonuses for senior executives.
Gibson praised Congress for approving $16.3 billion to help shorten the waits, including $10 billion for veterans to get care from private doctors, called purchased care.
Veterans who live in remote areas or need specialized care should be able to see outside doctors, Gibson said, and they can help in emergencies, such as the current VA crisis. But he cautioned that outside care has limits.
"Purchased care is not a replacement for a strong and vital veterans health care system," he said.
The bill also includes $5 billion to hire more doctors and other personnel and $1.3 billion to open medical facilities.
In the past two months, the VA made 700,000 referrals of veterans to private health-care providers, an increase of 140,000 over the same period a year ago, Gibson said.
The agency has also contacted more than 200,000 veterans to help get them off wait lists, he said.
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