TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The new Veterans Affairs leadership has been addressing the national scandal that rocked the VA.
In line with that, the number-two man at the VA paid a visit to Tucson Monday to hear from patients and staff.
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson said he was impressed with some things here at the Tucson VA, but he saw other places that needed work, including access in certain areas with staffing shortages.
Gibson said the VA is working on sharing best practices across the entire system. He said there will be consistent appointment scheduling practices, something not done now in the system.
According to Gibson, VA leadership has been working closely with managers across the system, working to help VA's learn from each other.
He said the goal is to make the VA operate as an integrated system, to change the culture of the VA.
One of the challenges is to make sure work is spread throughout teams so that one group, physicians for example, are not being loaded up with work that should be done by someone else on the team.
Gibson said one program that is not working well is the Choice program that Congress gave the VA 90 days to implement.
Choice is the program where veterans can use community physicians, outside the VA system to get care more quickly. He said the VA has been trying to fix problems on the fly. Gibson said the VA needs Congress to help fix the very complicated Choice program.
"Veterans don't understand it. Providers don't understand it and, quite frankly, our own employees don't understand it," said Gibson. "We have begged Congress to give us authority to streamline these programs. We've begged for very simple fixes that would at least make the existing process work better, and we haven't got it."
As far as what guidance the VA has received from President-elect Trump, Gibson says there has been none, though the VA leadership has been meeting with the Trump transition team.
"So far, virtually everything that they've looked at they're very pleased and impressed with. You know comments like 'we had no idea. Nobody knows about what you guys have been doing these last two years.Why does nobody know about this stuff?' It's not because we've been hiding it under a bushel. So we keep working at it, but in terms of leadership and new direction, or anything like that, we've not had any communication," Gibson said.
Gibson says he'll be checking back with the Tucson VA in a few weeks to see how things are. He says he's especially interested in getting a permanent medical director hired as soon as possible.
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