White House Report Criticizes VA’s ‘Corrosive Culture,’ Outdated Tech
The Department of Veteran Affairs has "significant and chronic systemic failures" that are becoming worse under poor management, a lack of accountability and a pattern of retaliation against employee whistleblowers, according to a report prepared by White House officials, Los Angeles Times' "Nation Now" reports (Simon, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/27).
The report comes following revelations that many veterans faced long wait times at various VA health centers, which likely led to numerous deaths of patients. Last week, House and Senate negotiators began work on a unified bill that would increase and improve veterans' access to health care. Earlier this month, the two chambers approved separate but similar bills (S 2450, HR 4810) to address the issues (California Healthline, 6/25).
The report, which White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson delivered to President Obama on Friday, found VA's goal of scheduling veteran appointments within 14 days to be an "arbitrary, ill-defined and misunderstood" policy that likely "incentivized inappropriate actions."
The report also determined VA's scheduling technology to be "cumbersome and outdated" ("Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/27). However, it said a shortage of medical staff was more to blame for long veteran wait times, the Washington Post's "Federal Eye" reports. The report also noted that although a shortage of providers is not unique to VA, a slow federal hiring process and difficulty competing with private-sector wages exacerbated the issue for the department.
Despite recent reports of issues with veterans' access to health care at VA medical centers, the report found that many VA employees believe recent issues are "exaggerated, unimportant or 'will pass'." It recommended that VA take a more hands-on approach to hold the system's clinics accountable.
The report also found that VA employees who revealed problems within the system often faced retaliation. According to the report, 25% of all whistleblower cases before the U.S. Office of Special Counsel -- which investigates complaints filed by whistleblowers and protects federal workers against retaliation -- come from VA employees (Hicks, "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/27).
Overall, the report found that VA has a "corrosive culture" that is "seriously impacting morale and, by extension, the timeliness of health care" ("Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/27). Nabors and Gibson also noted that the findings demonstrate that VA "needs to be restructured and reformed" ("Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/27).
Obama To Nominate Former P&G Exec as VA Secretary
In related news, President Obama on Monday is expected to nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO and West Point graduate Robert McDonald as the next VA secretary, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, the Obama administration since May -- when former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned -- has been seeking a replacement with at least one of three key qualities. For example, the potential candidate should have:
- Extensive management experience;
- A military background similar to Shinseki's; or
- Substantial experience running a large hospital system.
Obama's selection of McDonald suggests that he "views the problems at the department as primarily a management concern," according to the Times.
In a statement issued Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) praised Obama's selection, calling McDonald "a good man, a veteran and a strong leader." However, he argued that McDonald would only succeed if Obama "first commits to doing whatever it takes to give our veterans the world-class health care system they deserve by articulating a vision for sweeping reform" (Shear/Oppel, New York Times, 6/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.