Shin­seki vows to stay on job to fix VA health care

Sen­a­tors ques­tion his con­trol of depart­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JACQUELINE KLIMAS

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­seki told Congress on Thurs­day that he’s “mad as hell” about ac­cu­sa­tions against depart­ment hos­pi­tals, but vowed to stay on the job as he fended off ques­tions about long wait times and charges that a Phoenix fa­cil­ity fab­ri­cated documents to hide its poor per­for­mance.

Mr. Shin­seki, a dis­abled vet­eran him­self, said he won’t leave his post un­til he has com­pleted his mis­sion or Pres­i­dent Obama fires him. He sought to as­sure sen­a­tors that he is try­ing to get to the bot­tom of the grow­ing list of com­plaints of poor ser­vice and large back­logs.

“Any al­le­ga­tion, any ad­verse in­ci­dent like this, makes me mad as hell. I could use stronger lan­guage here, but in def­er­ence to the com­mit­tee I won’t,” he said at a hear­ing of the Se­nate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. Law­mak­ers weren’t as­suaged. Sen. Dean Heller, Ne­vada Repub­li­can, de­manded to know whether Mr. Shin­seki thought wait times were too long or whether he had con­trol of his depart­ment.

“Ex­plain to me af­ter know­ing all these things why you shouldn’t re­sign,” Mr. Heller said.

The se­cret wait list at the Phoenix fa­cil­ity was re­vealed at the end of April by Dr. Sam Foote, who re­cently re­tired from the VA fa­cil­ity in Phoenix. The doc­tor said staff mem­bers were in­structed to make ap­point­ment times seem shorter by putting re­quests on the se­cret list, then shred­ding documents and not en­ter­ing the ap­point­ments into the com­puter un­til they could find open­ings within the re­quired 14-day win­dow, CNN re­ported.



Since the is­sues at the Phoenix Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Health Care Sys­tem sur­faced, whistle­blow­ers have re­ported prob­lems at other fa­cil­i­ties. Brian Turner, a sched­uler at a Texas VA fa­cil­ity, said he was in­structed to ma­nip­u­late data and that bonuses for su­pe­ri­ors de­pended on short wait times, Al Jazeera Amer­ica re­ported.

With the threat of po­lit­i­cal dam­age, Mr. Obama on Wed­nes­day night tapped one of his deputy chiefs of staff, Rob Nabors, to as­sist in an in­quiry. The White House couldn’t say Thurs­day what the scope or time­line would be for Mr. Nabors’ in­volve­ment, though Mr. Shin­seki said he was happy to have the help.

“Rob is a fresh set of eyes. He’s the son of a vet­eran,” he said. “I wel­come his as­sis­tance.”

Mr. Shin­seki said he has made progress on re­duc­ing back­logs and im­prov­ing care since he took the VA post at the start of Mr. Obama’s first term in 2009.

“I came here to make things bet­ter for vet­er­ans. That was my ap­point­ment,” Mr. Shin­seki said. “Over the last five years, we’ve done a lot but we’re not done yet. I in­tend to con­tinue this mis­sion un­til I have sat­is­fied ei­ther that goal or I’m told by the com­man­der in chief that my time has been served.”

He pleaded with law­mak­ers to let the depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral com­plete an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ac­cu­sa­tions be­fore de­mand­ing ac­count­abil­ity. He said he has not seen any wide­spread ev­i­dence of “cook­ing the books” or ma­nip­u­lat­ing sched­ul­ing data.

“I’m not aware, other than a num­ber of iso­lated cases where there is ev­i­dence of that, but the fact that there is ev­i­dence in a cou­ple cases be­hooves us to go take a thor­ough look,” he said.

He said he aims to have his own in­ter­nal au­dit com­pleted in about three weeks, though the in­spec­tor gen­eral said his re­view will con­tinue un­til the late sum­mer.

Some law­mak­ers said the depart­ment should be look­ing for people to fire. Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska Demo­crat, said an em­ployee should be fired once proved to be un­trust­wor­thy.

“For me, it’s the fun­da­men­tal is­sue. If we’re just shuf­fling them around, we’re not do­ing any­thing to im­prove it,” Mr. Begich said. “Some­times you’ve got to have some heads roll to get the sys­tem to shape up.”

Richard J. Grif­fin, act­ing in­spec­tor gen­eral of the VA, said al­most 200 people have worked on his in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is in its third week.

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