Tags: Barack Obama | VA Scandal | overhaul | CBS | Veterans Affairs | Bob McDonald

Massive Overhaul Looms for Veterans Affairs Unit

By    |   Monday, 10 Nov 2014 09:57 AM

Sweeping changes are coming to the Veterans Affairs Department after last year's revelations that tens of thousands of veterans were being forced to wait for medical care while division supervisors created fake books to hide the delays for months.

The sweeping overhaul, to be officially announced later today, will be the largest in the department's history, and VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who was brought in to replace former Secretary Eric Shinseki, told 60 Minutes Sunday night that more than 1,000 VA employees may be fired as a result.

"We're simplistically talking about people who violated our values," McDonald told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. "The report we've passed up to the Senate Committee and House Committee, has about 35 names on it. I've got another report that has more than 1,000."

The violated values, McDonald said, "integrity, it's advocacy, it's respect, it's excellence. These are the things we try to do for our veterans."

But McDonald, coming into the government office from his chief executive officer position at Procter & Gamble, the world's largest consumer products company, may find it difficult to clear out those workers, Pelley noted, as "to fire a government manager he has to put together a case and prove it to an administrative judge."

That fact is making McDonald vow that the VA will have to "make it stick" when it comes to firing employees.

"The law didn’t grant any kind of new power that would suddenly give me the ability to walk into a room and simply fire people," he told The Washington Post last week. "Our Constitution provides for due process, and we are following the due process."”

The overhaul will involve more than cleaning house, as it will involve a reorganization of the VA's entire organization structure, McDonald said. Currently, veterans seeking benefits do not know where to go, as there are nine different organization structures nationwide. As a result, they may see a person who is an expert in benefits, but not healthcare.

"We want to create a customer service representative that that person can go to," said McDonald. "Secondly, they face multiple websites that require multiple user names and multiple passwords and that's not acceptable. We've got to get to one website, one entry point, and then fan people out from there."

In addition, by next year McDonald promises that there will only be one website for veterans, not 12, and promised that new patients will see doctors within 30 days. Further, he promises, nobody will have to wait for their benefits.

McDonald has already inspected 41 VA facilities in the four months he's been in office, and he oversees some 340,000 employees who handle not only medical benefits, but also home mortgages, college loans and more.

Last April, after a Phoenix doctor exposed fake wait lists that showed people were being treated who weren't, it was also discovered that the delays may have contributed to at least six deaths.

President Barack Obama said the delays and cover up was "dishonorable" and "disgraceful," and that he would not tolerate the growing scandal.

McDonald told Pelley that when he learned about the fake wait lists in Phoenix and at 92 other VA centers, he was furious.

"I was incensed," he told Pelley. "Our veterans have earned these benefits. They earn them with their lives in danger."

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But while many bureaucrats are losing their jobs, the VA hopes to build up its actual medical staff. McDonald says that the VA needs about 28,000 more doctors, nurses and medical professionals.

He has already raised the doctors' salaries to attract new professionals, as VA physicians were earning less than their colleagues in private practice, and the shortages resulted in the lengthy wait lists for veterans.

In addition, McDonald hopes to hire some 2,500 mental health professionals to help meet the growing demand for those services. Nearly a half-million vets, many from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have applied for mental health services since 2006, 60 Minutes reported.

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Sweeping changes are coming to the Veterans Affairs Department after last year's revelations that tens of thousands of veterans were being forced to wait for medical care while division supervisors created fake books to hide the delays for months.
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2014-57-10
Monday, 10 Nov 2014 09:57 AM
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