On Monday, Sloan D. Gibson, Acting Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about the problems at the VA. He acknowledged that the VA has failed our veterans and the American public, and has not provided the quality and timeliness of healthcare. To fix this broken system, he estimates an additional $17.6 billion will be required over the next three years. Gibson, a career banker, had been serving as CEO of the USO before stepping in as Acting Secretary five months ago. His testimony summarized the problems he has uncovered, the priorities he has set, and the steps he has taken, as follows.

 Key problem areas:

  • Long waits for appointments
  • Scheduling improprieties
  • “Whistleblowers” fearing retaliation
  • Focus on performance metrics rather than patient care
  • Lack of accountability for bad care or misconduct
  • Staff and space restrictions.

 Gibson’s current priorities:

  • Getting veterans off waiting lists and into clinics
  • Fixing “systemic scheduling problems”
  • Addressing “cultural issues”
  • Prevention/accountability re negligent or willful misconduct
  • Communicating and disclosing
  • Quantifying needed resources
  • Protecting whistleblowers from retaliation.

 Gibson’s accomplishments:

  • Brought in outside managers to oversee reforms
  • Investigating acquisition of an “off the shelf” automated scheduling system
  • Ordered monthly inspections (1,000 so far) of clinic scheduling practices
  • Began building a measuring system to track patient satisfaction
  • Personal visits to 12 VA Medical Centers in the past 6 weeks
  • New rules re willful misconduct and management negligence
  • Better patient access to private healthcare facilities
  • Suspension of all performance awards to VHA senior executives
  • Informed all 31,400 VHA employees that “whistleblowers will be protected.”

Acting Secretary Gibson says that paying for veterans to get services in the community outside of the VA will only make it harder to fix the VA system, which, he believes, can be transformed to efficiency and effectiveness in “as little as two years.” We will soon see if the nominee as the new Secretary, Robert McDonald, agrees with Gibson’s assessments and solutions. The VA is the nation’s largest employer of clinical social workers. They—and all of us—want to see the VA succeed. The opportunity now exists for a complete turnaround. ACSWA’s Michael Brooks, MSW, BCD, wants to hear from you about your VA experiences and your ideas for improvements—contact him at MBrooks@centercsw.org or call 1-888-279-9378.  


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