VA scandal: Problems persist as McDonald's reforms take shape

Six months after Robert McDonald became the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), the embattled agency has made progress, but still has much work remaining, according to U.S. News & World Report.

McDonald assumed office in the wake of a scandal involving long wait times and data manipulation at VA facilities and made the most sweeping reforms in the agency's history, establishing a new customer service office, a standardized regional framework and realignment of business processes, as well as disciplinary procedures that could involve up to 1,000 employees.

Despite these steps, critics of McDonald say the VA still needs to improve on transparency. The agency's finances are so difficult to pin down that the Congressional Budget Office was forced to rely on a report from 2004 to compile a report comparing Veterans Health Administration and private hospital healthcare costs, according to the article.

Another reform since McDonald took office has been the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which allowed veterans to seek care at private providers rather than endure long wait times. However, according to the article, some veterans groups have objected to this solution, arguing the VHA provides care veterans cannot get elsewhere. A November report found that despite the VA announcing it slashed wait times nearly 18 percent, more than 600,000 veterans face wait times of a month or longer.

Nor is the fallout from the initial scandal entirely over, according to the Daily Caller, which reports that VA staff "scrub" patients, or convince them to cancel scheduled appointments.

"The person who answers the phone might not even be the person's physician, but they'll just pull up the person's record and tell them they don't need the appointment," John P. Beavers, former nurse practitioner at Michigan's Battle Creek VA Medical Center, told the Daily Caller. "But they won't take them off the schedule until the day or next day. That makes it look like the patient canceled."

These ongoing problems have landed the VA on the Government Accountability Office's annual list of the government agencies, programs and projects at highest risk for fraud, abuse and waste, according to the Fiscal Times.

To learn more:
- here's the U.S. News article
- read the Daily Caller article
- here's the Fiscal Times article