Acting VA Secretary: System fix will cost $17B

It will cost the country $17.6 billion over the next three years to hire enough doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners and build outpatient clinics to fix the widespread problems that led to the Veterans Affairs (VA) secret waitlist scandal, Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan D. Gibson told the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Wednesday.

The VA will need at least $10 billion of the funds to hire approximately 1,500 doctors and 8.500 nurses and other clinicians, he said. "These funds address only the current shortfalls of clinical staff, space, information technology and purchase care necessary to provide timely, high-quality care," he said.

Failure to obtain the funds, Gibson said, will result in longer wait times for care, which previous reports indicate can take as long as 90 days for veterans to receive an initial appointment. 

The requested funds, which also include money to construct outpatient clinics, are in addition to legislation that the House and Senate is negotiating to allow veterans who face long wait times for care to see a private  physician instead.

Gibson's testimony comes in the wake of a Washington Free Beacon analysis that reveals VA hospitals across the country reported more than 500 adverse events involving patient injuries or death as a result of the care they received. The newspaper obtained the data via a Freedom of Information Act request.

"Until VA leaders make a serious attempt to address the department's widespread and systemic lack of accountability, I fear we'll only see more of these lapses in care," Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), head of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon.

"Like other hospital systems, VA isn't immune from human error--even fatal human error," Miller added. "But what the department does seem to be immune from is meaningful accountability. Given that these traffic events are part of a pattern of preventable veteran deaths and other patient safety issues at VA hospitals around the country, it's well past time for the department to put its employees on notice that anyone who lets patients fall through the cracks will be held fully responsible."

The VA scandal broke in April and in recent weeks VA officials testified that the government is also investigating claims of retaliation against employees who filed whistleblower complaints, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- watch the hearing
- read the Free Beacon report