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VA executive: Wait times can be fixed in 2 years

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DENVER (AP) — Long wait times for veterans to get health care can be cleared up in two years, along with investigations of employees accused of falsifying data to hide the problem, Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday.

Gibson, who toured the Denver VA hospital, said his department has to change its culture to get employees to take responsibility for solving problems. Most VA workers are dedicated and know change is necessary, he said.

“I really believe that in as little as two years the conversation can completely change,” Gibson said.

Asked if that meant both the wait times and the personnel investigations can be resolved in that much time, he said yes.

The department has been shaken by reports of long wait times and that some veterans had died while waiting for treatment. Some workers have been accused of hiding the scheduling problems.

The VA has reported recent progress on reducing delays. An audit released last month showed 46,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments as of mid-June, down from 57,000 in mid-May.

The agency announced last week it planned to fire two supervisors and that four others would be disciplined, all in Colorado and Wyoming. They were accused of falsifying health care data.

Gibson said those were the only personnel investigations completed so far but more employees will be disciplined.

One of the six facing discipline is Ralph Gigliotti, who oversees VA health care facilities in all or parts of nine states in the Rocky Mountain region. The VA did not say what action Gigliotti faced, but he attended Gibson’s news conference Wednesday, sitting just to Gibson’s right.

He left without speaking and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left with a spokesman.

Gibson repeated his pledge that whistleblowers would not be retaliated against. The Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, reported last month that medical professionals nationwide who pointed out problems at the VA suffered retaliation.

Gibson said the Denver veterans hospital was the 14th he has visited in two months. He was headed for hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when he left Colorado.

Gibson became deputy secretary in February and was appointed acting secretary when retired Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned in late May amid the scandal. Robert McDonald was confirmed as the new secretary last week.

Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

VA executive: Wait times can be fixed in 2 years

KDWN

DENVER (AP) — Long wait times for veterans to get health care can be cleared up in two years, along with investigations of employees accused of falsifying data to hide the problem, Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday.

Gibson, who toured the Denver VA hospital, said his department has to change its culture to get employees to take responsibility for solving problems. Most VA workers are dedicated and know change is necessary, he said.

“I really believe that in as little as two years the conversation can completely change,” Gibson said.

Asked if that meant both the wait times and the personnel investigations can be resolved in that much time, he said yes.

The department has been shaken by reports of long wait times and that some veterans had died while waiting for treatment. Some workers have been accused of hiding the scheduling problems.

The VA has reported recent progress on reducing delays. An audit released last month showed 46,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments as of mid-June, down from 57,000 in mid-May.

The agency announced last week it planned to fire two supervisors and that four others would be disciplined, all in Colorado and Wyoming. They were accused of falsifying health care data.

Gibson said those were the only personnel investigations completed so far but more employees will be disciplined.

One of the six facing discipline is Ralph Gigliotti, who oversees VA health care facilities in all or parts of nine states in the Rocky Mountain region. The VA did not say what action Gigliotti faced, but he attended Gibson’s news conference Wednesday, sitting just to Gibson’s right.

He left without speaking and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left with a spokesman.

Gibson repeated his pledge that whistleblowers would not be retaliated against. The Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, reported last month that medical professionals nationwide who pointed out problems at the VA suffered retaliation.

Gibson said the Denver veterans hospital was the 14th he has visited in two months. He was headed for hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when he left Colorado.

Gibson became deputy secretary in February and was appointed acting secretary when retired Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned in late May amid the scandal. Robert McDonald was confirmed as the new secretary last week.

Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

VA executive: Wait times can be fixed in 2 years

KDWN

DENVER (AP) — Long wait times for veterans to get health care can be cleared up in two years, along with investigations of employees accused of falsifying data to hide the problem, Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday.

Gibson, who toured the Denver VA hospital, said his department has to change its culture to get employees to take responsibility for solving problems. Most VA workers are dedicated and know change is necessary, he said.

“I really believe that in as little as two years the conversation can completely change,” Gibson said.

Asked if that meant both the wait times and the personnel investigations can be resolved in that much time, he said yes.

The department has been shaken by reports of long wait times and that some veterans had died while waiting for treatment. Some workers have been accused of hiding the scheduling problems.

The VA has reported recent progress on reducing delays. An audit released last month showed 46,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments as of mid-June, down from 57,000 in mid-May.

The agency announced last week it planned to fire two supervisors and that four others would be disciplined, all in Colorado and Wyoming. They were accused of falsifying health care data.

Gibson said those were the only personnel investigations completed so far but more employees will be disciplined.

One of the six facing discipline is Ralph Gigliotti, who oversees VA health care facilities in all or parts of nine states in the Rocky Mountain region. The VA did not say what action Gigliotti faced, but he attended Gibson’s news conference Wednesday, sitting just to Gibson’s right.

He left without speaking and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left with a spokesman.

Gibson repeated his pledge that whistleblowers would not be retaliated against. The Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, reported last month that medical professionals nationwide who pointed out problems at the VA suffered retaliation.

Gibson said the Denver veterans hospital was the 14th he has visited in two months. He was headed for hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when he left Colorado.

Gibson became deputy secretary in February and was appointed acting secretary when retired Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned in late May amid the scandal. Robert McDonald was confirmed as the new secretary last week.

Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

VA executive: Wait times can be fixed in 2 years

KDWN

DENVER (AP) — Long wait times for veterans to get health care can be cleared up in two years, along with investigations of employees accused of falsifying data to hide the problem, Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday.

Gibson, who toured the Denver VA hospital, said his department has to change its culture to get employees to take responsibility for solving problems. Most VA workers are dedicated and know change is necessary, he said.

“I really believe that in as little as two years the conversation can completely change,” Gibson said.

Asked if that meant both the wait times and the personnel investigations can be resolved in that much time, he said yes.

The department has been shaken by reports of long wait times and that some veterans had died while waiting for treatment. Some workers have been accused of hiding the scheduling problems.

The VA has reported recent progress on reducing delays. An audit released last month showed 46,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments as of mid-June, down from 57,000 in mid-May.

The agency announced last week it planned to fire two supervisors and that four others would be disciplined, all in Colorado and Wyoming. They were accused of falsifying health care data.

Gibson said those were the only personnel investigations completed so far but more employees will be disciplined.

One of the six facing discipline is Ralph Gigliotti, who oversees VA health care facilities in all or parts of nine states in the Rocky Mountain region. The VA did not say what action Gigliotti faced, but he attended Gibson’s news conference Wednesday, sitting just to Gibson’s right.

He left without speaking and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left with a spokesman.

Gibson repeated his pledge that whistleblowers would not be retaliated against. The Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, reported last month that medical professionals nationwide who pointed out problems at the VA suffered retaliation.

Gibson said the Denver veterans hospital was the 14th he has visited in two months. He was headed for hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when he left Colorado.

Gibson became deputy secretary in February and was appointed acting secretary when retired Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned in late May amid the scandal. Robert McDonald was confirmed as the new secretary last week.

Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

VA executive: Wait times can be fixed in 2 years

KDWN

DENVER (AP) — Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson says the agency’s scheduling problems and personnel investigations can be cleared up in two years.

Gibson made the prediction Wednesday while visiting the Denver veterans hospital. The Veterans Affairs Department is trying to reduce long wait times for veterans to get care and punish employees accused of falsifying data to hide the problem.

The VA has reported progress recently. An audit released last month showed 46,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments as of mid-June, down from 57,000 in mid-May.

The agency announced last week it would discipline six employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health care data.

Gibson said those were the only personnel investigations completed, but more employees will be disciplined.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Failed leadership is one reason some veterans hospitals are falling short as others excel, Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said.

Gibson told a convention of wounded combat veterans in Denver on Tuesday that more VA employees will be disciplined as the agency tries to root out the causes of a scandal over long waits for health care and falsified data.

Gibson planned to visit the Denver veterans hospital on Wednesday before leaving Colorado to tour facilities in Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

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 agency 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.

Gibson said when he visited the troubled Phoenix VA hospital, some employees choked back tears describing the obstacles they encountered in trying to care for veterans.

“What I saw was leadership failure, mismanagement and chronic underinvestment,” he said.

Leadership was the difference between the Phoenix facility and the well-run veterans hospital in San Antonio, he said.

“Everywhere I turned I saw excellence” at the San Antonio facility, he said. “But for leadership, Phoenix could have looked like that.”

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. The White House said President Barack Obama plans to sign the bill Thursday.

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.

Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP