VA scandal: McDonald announces major overhaul, firings

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald announced the most substantial restructuring in VA history, according to the Washington Post.

McDonald, who took over as the head of the VA three months ago following the resignation of Eric Shinseki in the wake of a nationwide scandal involving secret wait lists to cover up long delays in care, also announced pending disciplinary action for at least 35 VA employees. However, he said disciplinary action could involve as many as 1,000 employees and would take place in the near future but did not specify further.

"We're talking about people who violated our values," McDonald said during a forum at the Post on Monday. "Those values are integrity, it's advocacy, it's excellence."

McDonald added that the VA has taken disciplinary action against nearly 6,000 employees in the past year, according to Fox 43. However, he emphasized that the agency must build a case against each employee before dismissing them, echoing his defense of what critics called slow progress on disciplinary action.

"The law didn't grant any kind of new power that would suddenly give me the ability to walk into a room and simply fire people," McDonald said last week. "Our Constitution provides for due process, and we are following the due process."

Critics of the VA have accused it of influencing those in charge of investigations of misconduct, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

McDonald detailed the restructuring plans in a statement on Monday: 

  • A new customer service organization spanning the entire VA, headed by a "chief customer service officer" reporting to McDonald

  • A standardized regional framework meant to streamline partnering and coordination, and improve customer service

  • Collaboration with partners to create a national network of Community Veteran Advisory Councils

  • Realignment of its internal business processes into a shared services models to improve effeciency, reduce cost and increase producivity 

Acknowledging these reforms will be a "long-term process," the VA will launch My VA Idea House, a web tool enabling employees to submit ideas to improve and streamline services. The tool is set to launch on Nov. 11, Veteran's Day.

"I know there are a lot of questions about this effort, and I know that there will be concerns.  We don't have all the answers right now, and that's why we are reaching to you for your thoughts." McDonald said in the statement. "This will be a fair and deliberate process, and we need your help to make sure our decisions are the right ones for Veterans."

Meanwhile, The American Association of Nurse Practitioners hopes the VA will consider its members as top recruits for the new jobs that result from the restructing plan, The Hill reports. The group also urged the VA to change its policy to expand the role of nurse practitioners to evaluate and diagnose patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe and manage patients' treatment.

To learn more:
- read the Post article
- here's the Fox 43 article
- check out the statement
- read The Hill's article