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Acting VA leader: Changes start with getting veterans appointments

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • VA is contacting 1,700 veterans in Phoenix to schedule appointments
  • Bonuses for senior executives are suspended
  • Results of an audit will be released on Monday
  • VA will hire temporary employees to help veterans move through the system

(CNN) -- Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson, visiting the Phoenix VA facility where a report found 1,700 veterans were left off waiting lists, said Thursday that changes there signal the beginning of needed reforms.

The VA has contacted the veterans cited in an internal report and has begun to schedule appointments, Gibson said.

"Getting this right is our top priority, and taking care of the veterans here in Phoenix is a good place to start," he said.

The Veterans Affairs scandal has mushroomed since CNN first reported last November on allegations of alarming shortcomings within the VA medical care system that potentially had deadly consequences in dozens of cases.

The most disturbing and striking problems emerged in Arizona last month, with sources revealing to CNN details of a secret waiting list for treatment. According to the sources, at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix medical center. The VA has acknowledged 23 deaths nationwide due to delayed care.

Gibson said the results of a nationwide audit and numbers from patient wait data will be released on Monday and will show how systemic problems are at the agency.

The VA is looking to contract with non-VA medical-care providers in the Phoenix area to assist with primary care, he said, and is sending three mobile units. Gibson said that the VA will hire temporary workers to ensure veterans get the care they deserve.

He also announced the department has suspended bonuses for senior executives for the financial year.

"Additionally, we will remove the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts to eliminate any incentives to engage in inappropriate behavior," he said.

In some cases, wait times were manipulated to meet employee performance goals needed for bonuses, two VA reports revealed. Gibson replaced Eric Shinseki, who resigned last week.

Were bonuses tied to VA wait times? Here's what we know

The announced changes come the same day Senate negotiators reached a deal -- which will have to be approved by the full Senate -- on a bill that would approve the building of new VA facilities, bring about the hiring of more doctors and nurses and allow veterans in rural areas to go to non-VA doctors.

It should go to the Senate floor next week, according to aides.

Senate reaches deal on VA bill

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