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Obama to veterans: New culture of accountability at VA

Aug. 26, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By Gregory Korte USA Today   |   Comments
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President Obama speaks at the American Legion's 96th National Convention on Aug. 26 in Charlotte, N.C. , (Saul Loeb / Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Obama announced a new series of executive actions to help veterans Tuesday, telling veterans in Charlotte that he’s instituting a new “culture of accountability” at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“What we’ve come to learn is that the misconduct we’ve seen at too many facilities — with long wait times, and veterans not receiving care, and folks cooking the books is outrageous and inexcusable,” Obama said in a speech to the American Legion’s annual convention.

Obama’s speech came just minutes before the VA released a report revealing that the FBI is now investigating delayed care and falsified records at VA hospitals. That scandal has already led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May and resulted in rare bipartisan effort in Congress to fix veterans health care.

The 19 actions announced Tuesday implement and expand on that legislation, including:

■ A new recruiting campaign to fill shortages of doctors and nurses at VA hospitals. “Recruiting is job one right now,” new VA Secretary Bob McDonald said following Obama’s speech. He said he would be “out-in-front and hands-on,” visiting Duke University Medical School this week.

■ Automatically enrolling military personnel receiving mental health care in the Department of Defense system into mental heath treatment programs by the VA, and better coordinating their medical records. “You should not see a difference or a barrier between DOD and the VA,” McDonald said.

■ A partnership with five national banks to help veterans get lower rate VA mortgages.

■ New efforts to better understand traumatic brain injuries, including a $34.4 million VA suicide prevention study involving 1800 veterans at 29 VA hospitals, and more suicide prevention training for military and VA personnel.

Obama’s speech was followed by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., who’s been critical of the administration’s handling of veteran’s issues. “I have told the president that promises alone aren’t going to get it done,” she told the 9,000 legionnaires at the convention. “The Obama Administration has a long road ahead to restore the faith and trust of our veterans.”

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said Obama’s actions “fall far short of what’s needed to regain the trust of America’s veterans.”

The administration’s claims of accountability don’t add up, “especially when no one has been fired as a result of the VA scandal,” he said. “What we need from the president right now is more follow-through and less flash when it comes to helping veterans.”

The VA scandal erupted in April when a retired doctor at the VA hospital in Phoenix disclosed that long wait times may have contributed to the deaths of as many as 40 veterans. A preliminary investigation found that delays and falsified records were widespread through the VA system.

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