New VA chief may fire 1,000 staffers over healthcare scandal

Veterans Affairs secretary promises a new focus on customer service

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced a series of reforms Monday aimed at improving the agency’s customer service after concerns about substandard healthcare forced a leadership change earlier this year.

Three months after taking the helm, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald unveiled plans to create a chief customer service officer tasked with overseeing an agency-wide program to streamline the department’s regional centers into a single network.

In an interview with CBS' “60 Minutes” on Sunday, McDonald said that 35 staffers also will lose their jobs and 1,000 additional workers may be fired -- all of whom “violated our values,” he told the program.

Many of these staffers had already been placed on administrative leave pending a formal ruling, he said.

As part of the restructuring, the agency will sponsor a series of local councils nationwide to help veterans access private and public resources, McDonald said Monday.

“Our shared goals are to ensure that veterans have a clear understanding of VA and where to go for what they need within any of our facilities,” McDonald said in a statement announcing the changes.

The former CEO of Procter & Gamble, McDonald assumed command of the agency after the resignation of Eric Shinseki earlier this year. Shinseki faced intense criticism when employees at the Veterans Health Administration, the agency’s healthcare arm, were accused of falsifying appointment data and failing to provide timely care to veterans.

In addition to improved customer service, the agency has focused on disciplinary proceedings against the employees involved in the healthcare scandal. Earlier this month, officials announced that at least 40 employees have been identified for disciplinary action, with more than 100 investigations ongoing.

The agency also said it had greatly reduced the backlog of veterans waiting for healthcare appointments, scheduling more than 19 million appointments between June and October 2014.

The proposed reforms are intended to tackle complaints that the agency that manages hundreds of facilities nationwide and assists more than 1 million veterans is unnecessarily complex and bureaucratic.

Among the responsibilities that the Department of Veterans Affairs manages are cemeteries, government benefits, home loans, and physical and mental health services for wounded troops.  

Twitter: @mtthnsn

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