The Department of Veterans Affairs is pouring tens of millions of dollars into the scandal-ridden Phoenix VA medical center, and according to Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, the facility is “under siege.”
Although the Phoenix VA has a budget of $703 million, Gibson told The Arizona Republic Wednesday that in fiscal year 2016, Phoenix and other connected clinics in the area received $54 million extra, bringing the total budget of Phoenix to $757 million. The funds will be allocated to hiring more staff and facility improvements.
“What you’re seeing is us trying to address Phoenix as part of an enterprise … to set you up for success,” Gibson told The Arizona Republic. “This place is under siege. We’re going to keep on doing the right thing for veterans and taxpayers.”
Despite throwing more money at the facility, the department seems to continue making basic errors when trying to reform the medical center. RimaAnn Nelson was appointed as the facility’s permanent director last week, the seventh director in three years, which quickly led to complaints because of two inspector general reports showing Nelson’s poor oversight at another facility in St. Louis. The hospital in St. Louis was forced to close its operating rooms twice because of safety issues, and the hospital also potentially exposed 1,800 patients to HIV. All this occurred while Nelson served as director.
Gibson and other VA leaders apparently didn’t anticipate backlash from such a strange appointment.
“We were not as prepared as we should have been … I own that. Frankly, that’s a lesson we learned,” Gibson said.
Phoenix is known as ground zero for the wait list scandal in 2014, which rocked the nation and put veterans’ issues back into the public forefront.
Meanwhile, the inspector general released a report in early October showing that veterans are still dying at Phoenix without receiving the care they need.
At least one vets’ group, however, doesn’t think the problems at Phoenix are a function of a lack of funding. Rather, Matt Dobson, Arizona state director for Concerned Veterans for America, believes at the heart of poor care is a serious culture problem that reaches all the way to the top of the VA.
“The VA is throwing money at the problems in Phoenix, but the sixty-five percent increase in VA funding since the 2014 wait list scandals prove that this is not a resource problem,” Dobson said in a statement. “This is a structural and cultural problem within the VA that starts at the top with the leadership. The only way we can expect to see real change at the VA is with a leadership that champions the real accountability reforms we see on the table in Congress right now. Wasting even more taxpayer dollars is not the answer.”
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