ST. LOUIS - More than 12,000 members of the VFW are in St. Louis for their national convention and Tuesday they voted to send congress an ultimatum. Either agree on a funding compromise before their summer recess, or veterans will hold them accountable for their failures.
The acting head of the VA, Sloan Gibson, spoke to convention members earlier in the day and the met with employees at the St. Louis VA Hospital off of Grand.
When asked about the level of care in St. Louis and about the treatment of whistleblowers who try to point out problems, Gibson said, "There are more than enough signs we don't have the right environment in place here....Talk is cheap, that's all it is right now. I'm waiting for Carolyn Lerner the Special Council of the United States to turn over a large number of investigations that have been completed around alleged whistleblower retaliation so that I then can take the administrative actions that need to be taken."
One of those whistleblowers is Washington University's, Dr. Jose Matthews, who told KSDK he was demoted as the head of psychiatry at the VA, when he pointed out staffing problems.
Matthews testified before congress earlier this month and today met with acting secretary Gibson. He told Leisa Zigman if there is a new culture and a message of transparency St. Louis administrators have not received it. He said, "G-d save the VA."
Gibson told KSDK the St. Louis VA is now hiring 67 nurses to fill vacancies. And when asked how could there be so many open positions, he said that it was due in part to mismanagement and in part to the bureaucracy in place that makes it hard to get anything done at the VA. He said that was changing.
Veterans we talked too approved of his message but now want congress to step up.
Gibson testifies before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.
Here is a list of changes Gibson says occurred over the past six weeks within the St. Louis VA:
• Reaching out to all Veterans waiting for care to get them off of wait lists and into clinics for medical appointments – as of July 9, VA St. Louis Health Care System has reached 2,938 Veterans.
• In the last 12 months, initiating an effort to hire approximately 60 new staff to support scheduling function and clinical services.
• VA St. Louis Health Care System has expanded the Call Center to incorporate contacts for Accelerated Care Initiative through use of overtime and temporary reassignments.
• Expanded Non-VA Care Coordination (NVCC) clinical staff, working with reassigned nurses and light duty staff to allow for rapid processing of consults.
• The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is ensuring that an additional $10.4 million from within VA's budget specifically be made available to the VA St. Louis Health Care System to accelerate access to care. These funds allow VA to refer Veterans to the community for care if VA does not have the capacity or services available to meet the needs at our facility.
• Leveraging strong relationships with multiple providers in the community, to offer Veterans a choice of providers that meet their preferences and provides timely and quality care.
• VA St. Louis Health Care System is expanding services to Veterans in Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois. Cardiac surgery will begin this fiscal year with the expansion of neurosurgical services shortly thereafter.
• At the direction of Acting Secretary Gibson, VA St. Louis Health Care System is exploring the use of established national contracts with community partners to schedule Veterans waiting to be seen by a provider.
Mathews was demoted and given a basement office when he pointed out problems at the St. Louis VA. He was with Gibson Tuesday, who said he will take action if the investigation warranted it. He also acknowledged there are many problems at the St. Louis VA, and at VAs nationwide.
You can watch Gibson's entire speech below:
Va Secretary Sloan Gibson's full speech