GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson visited the VA hospital in Gainesville Thursday to announce immediate action that's being taken to improve veteran care in Gainesville and in South Georgia.
The visit comes on the heels of an audit that revealed the extent of the problems throughout the country, addressing allegations of long wait times and mismanagement that may have resulted in veterans' deaths.
Gibson revealed Thursday that there is an active investigation into willful misconduct at the Gainesville VA facility, which could result in the termination of top-level management.
While standing next to senior administrators, Gibson told reporters his office is reviewing allegations of long wait lists and scheduling issues in Gainesville.
"If I discover instances of scheduling issues or improprieties in North Florida and South Georgia facilities, these are the two people who I will be visiting with in their office very shortly after," Gibson said.
Gibson met with Tom Wisneski, Joelyn Clark and other senior administrators to discuss the immediate actions necessary to improve veteran care. One of those priorities is shortening veterans' wait times. Another is hearing from the veterans themselves.
"More than 3,000 veterans have been contacted which have been on expanded wait lists," Gibson said. "They've been doing things to expand capacity, adding about 250 appointment slots."
Gibson said he suggested VA officials in Gainesville hire additional physicians and psychiatrists from the private sector to accommodate the need.
"Folks here are being encouraged to use purchased care contracts that are being put into place, and I provided some direction today to look at some other new new contracts with other providers; network contracts here locally," Gibson said.
He said some employees need to be retrained, and VA hospitals need more space. He's counting on Congress to appropriate additional funds.
"We are going to be asking for additional resources so we can ensure that we can consistently provide the quality, timely health care that veterans deserve," Gibson said.
Gibson also said he will not tolerate what's being called whistle-blower retaliation. He wants VA employees to feel comfortable expressing their concerns.
Gibson said VA health systems have created 215 new jobs in North Florida and Georgia, which enables the system to expand its operating hours to meet the veterans' needs.
"We are working around the country to deal with those issues," he said.
Gibson said he will not hesitate to hold senior leaders accountable and at the same time, try to earn back the trust of the American people, one veteran at a time.
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