Veterans news update for Nov. 26

Veterans news update for Nov. 26

Veterans news updatePhoenix VA director’s firing leaves critics wanting more (Military Times)
When former Veterans Affairs Department executive Sharon Helman was fired Monday, VA critics reacted swiftly and similarly to the news: Finally — but it’s not enough. Helman, who had been the Phoenix VA health system director until May, was formally dismissed after more than 200 days of investigation into the Arizona system’s wait time scandals and administrative cover-up. House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has called for Helman’s firing for months and called Monday’s news “a positive step.” But he stopped short of full praise for VA. “VA will never regain the trust of America’s veterans and American taxpayers until all of the corrupt senior executives who created the biggest scandal in the department’s history are held accountable to the maximum extent under the law,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “There are still many more VA scandal figures who also must be purged from the department’s payroll.” Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who had hammered McDonald and VA leadership in recent weeks for continuing to keep Helman on the payroll, called the action long overdue and said the department still must do more to win back the trust of veterans.

Veterans group says good riddance to fired Phoenix VA director (Phoenix New Times)
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced yesterday that Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, finally was fired for the wait-time manipulation scandal that may have led to some veterans’ deaths. Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, a veterans’ advocacy group, declared “good riddance” to Helman. “She was Exhibit ‘A’ of why the VA needs more accountability within its employee structure,” Concerned Veterans for America legislative director Dan Caldwell tells New Times. Concerned Veterans for America has been calling for Helman’s firing for a majority of this year, and even created a clock indicating how long she’d been on paid administrative leave after the scandal broke. And while his organization is cheering Helman’s firing, she wasn’t the only one receiving blame from the inspector general. “There’s actually still a lot of bad actors at the Phoenix VA hospital,” Caldwell says, adding, “The biggest thing that a new director of the Phoenix VA will run into is . . . people who were part of the scandal, that they’ll have to rely on.”

Augusta VA facing similar struggles a year after cancer-related deaths (Augusta Chronicle)
A year after thousands of delayed gastrointestinal procedures at the Charlie Norwoood Veterans Affairs Medical Center led to three cancer-related deaths, the Augusta hospital still lacks permanent leadership and a former whistleblower continues to lobby for accountability at the facility. Dr. Raymond Kostromin, a former primary-care physician at the Augusta hospital, wrote a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald on Nov. 14, stating the initial Inspector General investigation he requested in January “did not result in justice for the veterans that use this facility for their health care.” Kostromin claimed the hospital’s former associate director, Toby Rose, and chiefs of staff, Drs. Luke Stapleton and Michael Spencer, failed to schedule 4,580 primary-care referrals for endoscopies and “did nothing” to address the problem since a backlog began to form in September 2012. He received a partial report from the Inspector General this month, but the office said the allegations were only “partially substantiated” and had since been resolved through hospital management completing all required actions recommended for improvement.

Lame duck senate on tight deadline to pass suicide reduction bill (The Daily Caller)
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is on his way out as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, but before he goes he intends to pass legislation to reduce veteran suicides, Stars and Stripes reports. According to Sanders, approximately 22 veterans kill themselves every single day, an unacceptably high rate which needs to be brought down. His first recommendation is that the VA devote substantial resources to improving its healthcare system. “Overall, I believe that the VA is doing a good job in providing mental health services for veterans, but we have to do better,” Sanders said in a statement. But as far as the timeline of his legislation is concerned, Sanders will have to move quickly, as Republicans are set to take control of the Senate in January, at which point he will lose his chairmanship.

Sen. Warner: Improvements made at Hampton VA (Newport News Daily Press)
Ninety days after visiting Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center where wait times for care were among the worst in the nation, Sen. Mark Warner says there have been some improvements. But the senator and facility director Michael Dunfee have only glossed over what those specific improvements are. “We’ve seen improvements in the wait times, particularly with specialty care,” Warner told reporters at a news conference Tuesday after a meeting with top officials at the Hampton hospital. “I think we still need movement on primary care.” Daniel Henry, spokesman for the Hampton VA, called the improvements to wait times, which have plagued the VA system-wide, incremental overall. The meeting between Warner and the local administration lasted about an hour. “We talked about specific actions we’re taking to speed up the recruitment of providers in clinical areas,” Dunfee said in a phone call Tuesday. “I’m very comfortable that we are now training our staff on the scheduling process correctly.”

Elected leaders meet with Hibbing VA workers over scheduling concerns (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and State Sen. Dave Tomassoni met privately with former employees of a Hibbing Veterans Affairs clinic to hear allegations that the ex-workers were ordered to backdate medical appointment schedules to make it appear that some veterans were being seen far sooner than when the appointments actually took place. Nolan and Tomassoni, who both represent the area, met privately on Monday for about an hour with three former clinic employees in Mountain Iron, Minn., because they worried they would suffer retaliation for coming forward, Nolan’s office said. The former employees have also complained of a hostile work environment and a policy that they said put profits ahead of care. The clinic is currently being managed by third-party contractor Cincinnati-based Sterling Medical Associates. In a statement, Nolan’s office said the congressman will share their concerns with new VA Secretary Bob McDonald and the VA’s Office of Inspector General, which already has been asked to investigate the claims by the former workers.