JACKSON, Miss. — Acting U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson says that veterans' health care is moving in the right direction in Jackson and nationwide.
Gibson visited the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson on Friday. He met with employees, veterans' groups and reporters.
Gibson said the VA is sending an additional $4 million to Jackson to speed care and that the Jackson hospital is hiring eight people to coordinate care outside the VA system for veterans.
Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned as Veterans Affairs secretary because some hospitals were hiding wait time lengths. The president has nominated former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the next permanent secretary.
In the meantime, the acting secretary is visiting VA hospitals nationwide, trying to rebuild trust after it was revealed that VA employees were lying about how long patients were waiting for appointments, in part to collect performance pay.
"It's obvious that we've allowed that trust to erode over recent months," Gibson said. "My commitment to you, my commitment to our veterans is that we're going to earn it back. I don't expect anybody to give it back. I expect we're going to have to earn it back."
The Jackson hospital has faced allegations of improper patient care over the past decade, including claims of understaffing, a radiologist who didn't properly read some X-rays, and dirty medical instruments.
Joe Battle, the current head of the Jackson hospital, said the hospital now has 13 nurse practitioners and more than eight physicians, including part-timers, providing primary care.
New patients were waiting an average of 34 days to see a primary care provider at the Jackson hospital as of June 15, down from 45 days on May 15. Gibson said that was achieved by expanding clinic hours and paying overtime to employees. He said the hospital is also paying to send more patients to private care providers outside the system.
Unlike some other hospitals, Gibson and Battle said the Jackson hospital had no secret waiting list.
Veterans' advocates who met with Gibson had mostly positive reactions.
Danny Williams, the adjudant-quartermaster of the Mississippi department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the Jackson operation still needs more primary care providers and psychiatrists. But he said he was "really impressed" with Gibson.
Randy Reeves, executive director of the state Veterans Affairs Board, said he was "heartened" by Gibson.
"He has the right mind for what is going on right now," Reeves said.
U.S. Rep Steven Palazzo, though, calls the problems at the VA "deplorable." The Biloxi Republican met with more than 200 veterans in south Mississippi this week
"The vast majority all agreed that veterans are not getting the proper care they earned," Palazzo said. "Changing one management position isn't a solution. We need a long-term strategy that puts the veterans first, and I have yet to hear it from this president."
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