Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonald visited Phoenix on Friday to meet veterans and the medical staff. McDonald has been on the job less than a month. It was Phoenix that drew much of the media’s attention during the patient care delay scandal. The visit to the VA medical center in Phoenix gave the Secretary a fresh look at where all the trouble began.
McDonald pledged to regain the trust of VA patients and their families, but that may be a long time coming. Due to the severity of the scandals, Phoenix was the first stop for the new Secretary. It was the Phoenix Veterans Administration hospital where reports began to emerge of patients subjected to extraordinarily long wait times in receiving care. Some patients reportedly died while waiting to be scheduled for the medical care that they required.
McDonald visited Phoenix as the first stop on his tour of the nation’s facilities so that Veterans Administration staff and citizens could meet the new Secretary. Allegations were first made at the VA medical center in Phoenix that administrators created secret waiting lists, falsified records and that some veterans died while waiting for care.
According to special reports on CNN and in the Los Angeles Times, at least 40 veterans may have died while waiting to see a doctor at the VA health care facility in Phoenix. The report was based on information from patients, hospital employees, and Congressional members who investigated the allegations.
CNN interviews with Sam Foote, a Veterans Administration medical doctor in Phoenix, revealed how the VA hospital kept two patient lists. One list was for Congress and the Inspector General, but the other list, the real wait list, showed that some veterans were forced to wait over a year to be seen.
Secretary McDonald was appointed to reform the VA health system. He began his duties in July after the previous VA secretary resigned. Speaking to reporters who came to meet the new Veterans Administration Secretary in Phoenix, McDonald acknowledged that there was a lot to accomplish, but he promised, “We’re going to take this crisis…and turn it into an opportunity.” The Secretary promised to shake things up and change the culture of the VA.
McDonald has impressive management experience. Before joining the VA, he was Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G). Certainly no stranger to veteran’s affairs, McDonald is an Army veteran himself, having served with the 82nd Airborne Division. McDonald completed Jungle, Arctic, and Desert Warfare training, also earning the Army Ranger tab. The Army Ranger School is considered to be one of the most difficult training courses in the Armed Services. McDonald also earned the Senior Parachutist wings, and Expert Infantryman Badge.
On Thursday President Obama signed the Veterans Access to Care Act, a $16 billion bill to be used to modernize the VA medical system and reduce patient delays. The bill breezed through both houses of Congress with broad bi-partisan support and McDonald promised that the funds will be used to hire more doctors and nurses to lessen the wait load for VA patients.
Some of the new funding will used to build a new $20 million VA health care center in the Phoenix area. Officials say that the new facility will service approximately 120,000 patients once it opens in 2019. The existing facility has been remodeled and enlarged several times in recent years.
Citizens, veterans, medical staff and reporters were ready to meet the new Veterans Administration Secretary in Phoenix. McDonald says he has a 90 day plan to change the makeup and culture of the VA hospital system. For his next stop, Secretary McDonald flew to Las Vegas to visit the VA medical facility there, another one of the VA facilities that have been criticized for having lengthy patient delays.
By Jim Hanemaayer