Skip to main content

Acting VA leader: Changes start with getting veterans appointments

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
  • 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

Part of complete coverage on
Veterans Affairs
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Sgt. Terry Mitchell withstood fire deep in the mountains of Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange. He survived that grisly war, but his life was cut short by delays in care.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Thu June 12, 2014
There was good news and bad news at a congressional hearing on the embattled Veterans Affairs health care system.
updated 11:20 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
The FBI says it has opened a criminal investigation of the Veterans Affairs Department.
updated 7:09 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
An internal VA audit said tens of thousands of veterans wait at least 90 days for medical care, while even more never got an immediate appointment they requested.
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said that his priority is getting veterans appointments.
updated 6:04 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
It began with secret texts to untraceable phones. Meetings took place in seedy bars, dark alleys, gas stations.
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
In the end, even Eric Shinseki knew he had to go, President Obama said in announcing the resignation of his only VA secretary over a growing scandal.
updated 12:03 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
An initial review of the Veterans Affairs medical facility in Phoenix has found 1,700 veterans not on any list but also waiting to be seen.
A report was released on an audit of VA facilities in the wake of news that the VA medical system is in trouble.
updated 10:04 PM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a comprehensive review of the military health care system.
updated 9:04 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Pedro Valdez, a Vietnam veteran, wanted help. And he knew where to get it -- through the Phoenix VA -- or so he thought.
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Scandal, controversy and veterans care in the United States have gone hand-in-hand for virtually as long as there's been a republic.
updated 2:34 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Those who know Eric Shinseki chuckled when their laconic friend began his Army retirement speech in 2003 with this: "'My name is Shinseki, and I am a soldier."
updated 10:26 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Some veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made to wait for months despite a national mandate they be given priority access to medical care.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
The House has passed a bill making it easier for the VA to fire managers. CNN's Michelle Kosinski reports.
updated 10:28 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
President Barack Obama promised accountability, but he made clear he won't fire Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki -- yet.
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
When the American Legion calls for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gen. Eric Shinseki to resign, you know something is profoundly wrong.
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
"The Phoenix VA Health Care System is committed to delivering the highest quality care to Veterans."
updated 9:19 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.
updated 8:33 AM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals, a CNN investigation has found.