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Veterans Affairs reforms may mean 1,000 firings, Secretary McDonald says

The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a series of reforms Monday aimed at improving the agency’s customer service amid concerns about substandard health care that forced a leadership change this year.

Three months after taking the helm, VA Secretary Robert McDonald initiated plans to name a chief customer service officer tasked with overseeing an agency-wide program to streamline the department’s regional centers into a single network.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, McDonald said 35 staffers also will lose their jobs and 1,000 more workers may be fired — all of whom “violated our values,” he told the program.

Many of these staffers had been placed on administrative leave pending a formal ruling, he said.

As part of the restructuring, the agency will sponsor a series of local councils nationwide to help veterans access private and public resources, McDonald said Monday.

“Our shared goals are to ensure that veterans have a clear understanding of VA and where to go for what they need within any of our facilities,” the secretary said in a statement announcing the changes.

The former CEO of Procter & Gamble, McDonald assumed command of the agency after the resignation of Eric Shinseki this year.

Shinseki faced intense criticism when employees at the Veterans Health Administration, the agency’s health care arm, were accused of falsifying appointment data and failing to provide timely care to veterans.

In addition to improved customer service, the agency has focused on disciplinary proceedings against the employees involved in the health care scandal. Officials announced this month that at least 40 employees have been identified for disciplinary action, with more than 100 investigations ongoing.

The agency also said it had greatly reduced the backlog of veterans waiting for health care appointments, scheduling more than 19 million appointments between June and October.

The proposed reforms are intended to tackle complaints that the VA, which manages hundreds of facilities nationwide and assists more than 1 million veterans, is unnecessarily complex and bureaucratic.

Among the responsibilities that the department manages are cemeteries, government benefits, home loans, and physical and mental health services for wounded troops.

“We are very serious about making sure that we hold people accountable,” McDonald said.


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