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Deputy VA secretary cites leadership failures

U.S. Veterans Administration Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, left, shakes hands with Vietnam veteran Mike Mescavage before the opening session of the National Order of the Purple Heart National Convention in Denver, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. Gibson says more employees will be disciplined as the department sorts out a scandal over long waits for health care and falsified data.
U.S. Veterans Administration Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, left, shakes hands with Vietnam veteran Mike Mescavage before the opening session of the National Order of the Purple Heart National Convention in Denver, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. Gibson says more employees will be disciplined as the department sorts out a scandal over long waits for health care and falsified data.

DENVER — Failed leadership is one reason some veterans hospitals are falling short as others excel, Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said.

Gibson told a convention of wounded combat veterans in Denver on Tuesday that more VA employees will be disciplined as the agency tries to root out the causes of a scandal over long waits for health care and falsified data.

Gibson planned to visit the Denver veterans hospital on Wednesday before leaving Colorado to tour facilities in Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

The VA has been shaken by reports that ve1terans died while waiting for treatment and allegations that workers falsified records to cover up the delays, in some cases so the workers could collect bonuses.

The agency announced last week that it planned to fire two supervisors and discipline four other employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health care data.

"These were the first in what I expect will be a long series of announcements of personnel actions," Gibson told the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization of veterans who received the medal for combat wounds.

Gibson said when he visited the troubled Phoenix VA hospital, some employees choked back tears describing the obstacles they encountered in trying to care for veterans.

"What I saw was leadership failure, mismanagement and chronic underinvestment," he said.

Leadership was the difference between the Phoenix facility and the well-run veterans hospital in San Antonio, he said.

"Everywhere I turned I saw excellence" at the San Antonio facility, he said. "But for leadership, Phoenix could have looked like that."

Gibson praised Congress for approving $16.3 billion to help shorten the waits, including $10 billion for veterans to get care from private doctors, called purchased care.

Veterans who live in remote areas or need specialized care should be able to see outside doctors, Gibson said, and they can help in emergencies, such as the current VA crisis. But he cautioned that outside care has limits.

"Purchased care is not a replacement for a strong and vital veterans health care system," he said.

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