Veterans group: We're the ones suffering

Posted at 8:05 AM, Feb 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-26 10:05:13-05

CINCINNATI — A group of veterans plan to call for more accountability in the wake of a Scripps News/WCPO investigation into the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.

Since October, a team of Scripps reporters has been talking to a group of 34 current and former medical center staff members.

The group, including 18 doctors from several departments, sent an unsigned letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald in September describing "urgent concerns about quality of care" at the facility, which serves more than 40,000 area veterans. The whistleblowers allege a pattern of cost cutting that forced out experienced surgeons, reduced access to care and put patients in harm's way.

"We're the people who are hurt by this the most," former U.S. Navy engineer Steve Burkhalter said. "We're the ones waiting outside the VAs, we're the ones waiting in long lines, waiting on lists."

He and others calling themselves Concerned Veterans for America will gather Friday at the Millennium Hotel in Downtown Cincinnati to demand better service for veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has taken action against two senior officials in Cincinnati following a federal investigation into allegations of wrongdoing at Cincinnati’s VA Medical Center.

Network Director Jack Hetrick submitted his retirement after VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson proposed his removal as the agency’s highest-ranking VA official in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Dr. Barbara Temeck, the hospital's acting chief of staff, was reassigned to nonpatient-care duties and her medical privileges were suspended by VA Undersecretary for Health, David Schulkin.

Dr. Temeck could face additional actions, according to a VA news release.

"I don't think that it's enough," Burkhalter said. "Obviously there needs to be more accountability. That's the word that keeps being thrown out."

To Burkhalter, the everyday needs of he and his fellow veterans seem to get lost amid screams for changes at the top, he said.

"When this kind of stuff hits, it affects veterans that are local. So, we hear this from our local people that are on the ground, in the trenches, and that's really where the fight is right now, in the trenches," Burkhalter said.

On Thursday, VA officials appointed Robert McDivitt as Acting Network Director for the region including Cincinnati. McDivitt takes Hetrick’s place.

McDivitt was the Medical Center director in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has been an Acting Network Director twice in the past. He was also the Director of the VA Medical Center in Fargo, North Dakota from 2006 to 2009.

The VA also notified staff on Thursday that Dr. Ralph Panos is taking over as acting chief of staff for Dr. Temeck.

Panos has been the Cincinnati VA's chief of medicine.

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