The Times West Virginian

Headline News

May 18, 2014

Obama, Congress move to address VA firestorm

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and Congress are moving quickly to respond to a growing political firestorm over allegations of treatment delays and falsified records at veterans’ hospitals nationwide.

The top official for veterans’ health care resigned Friday, and House Republicans scheduled a vote for Wednesday on legislation that would give Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki greater authority to fire or demote senior executives and administrators at the agency and its 152 medical centers.

The actions came as federal investigators visited a VA hospital in suburban Chicago to look into an allegation that secret lists were used to conceal long patient wait times for appointments. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., meanwhile, called for an investigation into reports that schedulers at a VA medical center in Albuquerque were ordered to falsify patient appointment records.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the Veterans Affairs Department is suffering from “a systemic, cultural problem” that cannot be solved with piecemeal responses, such as the resignation of a top official.

“What’s needed is a total refocusing of the VA on its core mission of serving veterans — stretching from its top political leadership all the way through to its career civil servants,” McCain said Saturday in the weekly Republican radio and Internet address.

Citing news reports that VA managers received performance bonuses even as internal audits revealed lengthy wait times for health care, McCain said top VA officials too often have been “motivated by all the wrong incentives and rewards.”

McCain, a Vietnam veteran, said Congress must give VA administrators greater ability to hire and fire those charged with caring for veterans, as well as give veterans greater flexibility in how they get quality care in a timely manner.

Reports of long waits for appointments and processing benefit applications have plagued the VA for years. Officials have shortened benefits backlogs, but allegations of preventable deaths that may be linked to delays at the Phoenix VA hospital have triggered an election-year uproar. A former clinic director said up to 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital, even as hospital staff kept a secret appointment list to mask the delays.

A VA nurse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was put on leave for allegedly telling employees to falsify appointment records. A VA investigation in December found that staffers at a Fort Collins, Colorado, clinic were trained to make it appear as if veterans got appointments within 14 days, as VA guidelines suggest.

Problems also have been reported in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Florida and others.

Amid a growing outcry, the administration and Congress took steps to reassure the public that problems are being addressed.

Robert Petzel, the VA’s undersecretary for health care, had been scheduled to retire this year but instead stepped down Friday. Petzel had said he would remain until the Senate confirmed a replacement, but a department official said Shinseki asked Petzel to leave immediately.

Republicans denounced the move as a hollow gesture. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called the announcement “the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak.” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Shinseki’s “reticence to hold fellow bureaucrats at the VA accountable is exactly why we need new leadership that is willing to take swift action to ensure we are living up to our promises to our nation’s heroes.”

Cornyn is among a handful of Republicans who have called for Shinseki to resign. The American Legion, one of the nation’s largest veterans groups, also has called for Shinseki’s resignation and called Petzel’s departure “a continuation of business as usual.”

The White House said President Barack Obama supports Shinseki’s decision to remove Petzel and that Obama is “committed to doing all we can to ensure our veterans have access to timely, quality health care.”

Petzel’s resignation came a day after he and Shinseki were grilled at a four-hour hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where lawmakers and veteran groups expressed exasperation at long-standing problems.

In his position, Petzel oversaw what officials say is the largest health care delivery system in the U.S. The VA operates 1,700 hospitals, clinics and other facilities around the country, serving about 6.5 million veterans and other beneficiaries each year.

Miller, who wrote the legislation that the House will take up next week, said Congress must act, because the VA is “apparently unwilling to take substantive actions to hold any of its leaders accountable.”

Shinseki on Thursday told senators he was “mad as hell” about allegations of severe problems and that he was looking for quick results from a nationwide audit. He has rejected calls for him to resign.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • West Africa Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths

    The worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 deaths in West Africa as the World Health Organization on Thursday announced dozens of new fatalities.

    July 31, 2014

  • Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead

    A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.

    July 31, 2014

  • Obama takes tougher line against casualties in Gaza

    The Obama administration condemned the deadly shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza Wednesday, using tough, yet carefully worded language that reflects growing White House irritation with Israel and the mounting civilian casualties stemming from its ground and air war against Hamas.

    July 31, 2014

  • House approves VA overhaul

    The House overwhelmingly approved a landmark bill Wednesday to help veterans avoid long waits for health care that have plagued the Veterans Affairs Department for years.
    The $16.3 billion measure also would allow the VA to hire thousands of doctors and nurses and rewrite employment rules to make it easier to fire senior executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly.

    July 31, 2014

  • Contract dispute delays ‘Big Bang Theory’ production

    Production on a new season of “The Big Bang Theory” is being delayed because of a contract dispute with its top actors.

    July 30, 2014

  • What’s a group selfie? An usie

    What do you call a group selfie? An usie, of course!

    July 30, 2014

  • Senate changes House bill for highway funds

    The Senate on Tuesday voted to change the funding and timing of a House bill to keep federal highway funds flowing to states in an effort to force Congress to come to grips with chronic funding problems that have plagued transportation programs in recent years.

    July 29, 2014

  • State close to national average in credit card debt

    Credit card debt may have reached its lowest level in a decade, but according to a recent study on personal debt vs. income, just as more people are paying off their credit card debt monthly, nearly the same number of people are being reported for unpaid bills.

    July 29, 2014

  • New VA secretary confirmed by Senate

    The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary, with a mission to overhaul an agency beleaguered by long veterans’ waits for health care and VA workers falsifying records to cover up delays.

    July 29, 2014

  • W.Va. man arrested after child found in hot car

    A Wheeling man faces charges that he left his 18-month-old daughter in a hot car while he was asleep on a couch.

    July 29, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads