Saturday, July 26, 2014

VA takes first steps to address scandal

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson speaks. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News

The US Department of Veterans Affairs will abandon its 14-day wait time goal for scheduling patients, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson announced Thursday.

The change is among a number of steps the agency is taking to address major causes of the the ongoing VA scandal. The agency also plans to continue medical audits and site inspections going forward.

The scheduling goal created a perverse incentive that was at the heart of the VA scandal. First, the VA asked local hospital administrators to schedule patients quickly, with the promise of financial bonuses if hospitals lived up to the 14-day goal. Then, when local administrators realized the goal was unrealistic, they began to manipulate and falsify the scheduling data so they could still get their financial bonuses. So far, the evidence indicates this is exactly what happened at the Phoenix VA hospital.

Gibson also announced that the VA is deploying a special human resources team to recruit additional staff at VA facilities around the country. That could help address another issue pointed to by experts: The VA has a serious doctor shortage that is caused, in part, by poor recruitment efforts.

In the meantime, the VA will also take some smaller steps. Federal VA officials already started the process to get rid of senior officials at the Phoenix VA hospital. Next Monday, the VA will release results from its nationwide audit, along with patient access data, for all of the agency's medical centers.

"The data will demonstrate the extent of the systemic problems we have discovered," Gibson said. "As a veteran, I assure you I have the passion and determination to fix these problems — one veteran at a time."

It's worth noting, however, that while these fixes might address the nefarious practices that led to the VA scandal, there are still serious scheduling problems at the VA that we've known about for years. As the VA moves forward, it's going to need to do a lot more to address those issues.

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