Shinseki Vows Action on VA Misconduct Allegations
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2014 In testimony before a U.S. Senate panel today, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki assured a full and open disclosure process and action in response to allegations about misconduct involving patient care at VA facilities.
Fielding aggressive questions from members of the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs, Shinseki maintained the VA’s commitment to provide veterans with high-quality care, timely service and safe facilities.
Responding to allegations of appointment scheduling manipulation in Phoenix, Shinseki reiterated his commitment to taking all necessary actions to identify and fix the issues and strengthen veterans’ trust through a timely and thorough VA Inspector General review.
“If any allegations are true, they’re completely unacceptable to me, to veterans, and … the vast majority of dedicated VA employees who come to work every day to do their best by those veterans,” Shinseki said. “If any [allegations] are substantiated by the Inspector General, we will act.”
Shinseki said he has directed the VHA to complete a nationwide access review of all healthcare facilities to ensure full compliance with the medical appointment scheduling policy.
A retired Army general with 38-years of military service, Shinseki vowed to get to the bottom of the allegations.
“Any allegation … any adverse incident like this, makes me mad as hell,” Shinseki said. “I understand that out of those adverse events, a veteran and a veteran’s family [are] dealing in the aftermath and I always try to put myself in their shoes.”
Shinseki also reported that Rob Nabors, the White House’s deputy chief of staff for policy, will assist the VA in its investigation of the allegations.
According to White House officials, Nabors, a son of an Army veteran, is one of the President Barack Obama’s most trusted advisors, having worked on a number of domestic and economic policy issues, including reducing the backlog of veterans' disability claims at the VA over the last year.
Shinseki told the committee that the VA conducted approximately 85 million outpatient clinic appointments last year.
As a large, integrated healthcare system, he added, VA operates more than 1,700 points of care including 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics, 300 veterans centers, 135 community living centers, 104 rehabilitation treatment programs and 70 mobile veteran centers designed to reach the most remote veterans.
“This is a demonstration of concern by this department, trying to make sure that every veteran -- no matter where they live in this country and even our overseas locations -- have an equal opportunity to have access to quality healthcare,” Shinseki said.
Conducting more than 236,000 appointments each day, the VA’s 300,000-plus employees provide exceptional care to the 6.5 million veterans and other beneficiaries annually, the secretary said.
“VA healthcare is comparable to that in the private sector, meeting or exceeding standards in many areas,” Shinseki said. “We always endeavor to be fully transparent, fostering a culture that reports and evaluates errors in order to avoid repeating them.”
He noted that every VA medical facility is accredited by the Joint Commission, the independent organization that ensures the quality of U.S. healthcare through comprehensive evaluations.
“In 2012, the Joint Commission recognized 19 VA hospitals as among its top performers and last year that number increased to 32,” the secretary said.
Shinseki said the most recent American customer satisfaction index ranks VA customer satisfaction among the best in the nation, equal to or better than the ratings for private sector hospitals.
“An overwhelming 96 percent of veterans who use VA healthcare today indicated they would use us again the next time they needed in-patient care,” he said, adding that 95 percent felt the same for out-patient care.
“I want them to continue to have that level of trust,” the secretary said.
The VA will continue to aggressively develop and sustain reliable systems, Shinseki said, and train employees to detect and prevent healthcare incidents before they happen.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)