Editorial: Visit by VA director spotlights problems

  • Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, July 11, 2014 9:13 a.m.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson visited VA facilities in both Augusta and Columbia this week to meet with employees and local leaders.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson visited VA facilities in both Augusta and Columbia this week to meet with employees and local leaders.

Itís clear that revamping the Department of Veterans Affairs will be a daunting task, but itís a good sign to see the acting VA secretary visiting both Augusta and Columbia to speak with employees and local leaders.

Acting secretary Sloan Gibson came to both citiesí VA hospitals in an apparent effort to open up dialogue and look for ways to improve health care services.

While this will raise the visibility of the VA facilities in Augusta and Columbia, the visits certainly spotlight ongoing problems at the department.

The VA facilities in both cities have been hit with issues similar to the ones making headlines nationally, but Gibsonís goal appears to be to see local VAs first hand and to find out whatís working and whatís not working. Thatís a positive sign for the department and for these facilities that have been hit with issues.

Weíve said it on this page before Ė mistakes are going to be made Ė thatís only human nature Ė but some accountability measures have to be implemented, especially for egregious errors that have occurred across the country.

Too many reports have surfaced about employees gaming the system, covering up issues and retaliating against whistle blowers.

These reports clearly created the downfall of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who handed his resignation to President Barack Obama in May.

Gibson has indicated he wants to move the agency forward with a cultural change Ė one that will restore trust and bring greater respect to veterans.

Jim Lorraine, president and CEO of the Augusta Warrior Project, said thatís a needed change, but it will take an across-the-board administrative effort.

ďI think that the secretary stepping down is a sign from the top that change is underway. But I think it has to be changed from the bottom up too.Ē Lorraine said. ďItís a systematic, cultural change that has to be supported from the top down and has to be propagated from the bottom up.Ē

It will also need to take a legislative fix, but so far, many of the bills that would implement changes have gone nowhere.

A U.S. House bill Ė the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act Ė could help solve those concerns.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., a co-sponsor of the bill, said itís been held up in the U.S. Senate, but praised the acting secretary for visiting locally and working toward changes.

ďThe good news is that the secretary indicated he would be working for significant change and he made a commitment that the claims process, the backlog, would be completed by next year. So thatís a significant statement,Ē Wilson said.

Decreasing the backlog of appointments would certainly be a step in the right direction, but legislative fixes are also needed.

We urge Congress to move forward with passing the VA Accountability Act, which would give the secretary of veterans affairs the ability to dismiss personnel or reduce executive staff and provide needed reforms for care at hospitals across the country.

Accountability undoubtedly remains a great concern, which is especially unnerving because this issue deals with those who have fought to protect our country.

Reinstating integrity in the department is vital, and that will only take place with the right personnel in place.

While improvements can be implemented administratively, Congress needs to step up and break Washington gridlock to enact swift and comprehensive reforms to the VA system.

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