LIVE: VA boss may break silence on allegations

Posted at 7:43 AM, Feb 23, 2016

VA Secretary Bob McDonald may address problems at the Cincinnati VA in a Senate hearing today. Follow live coverage below from Scripps reporters at the hearing. (Live feed may take a minute to load. If you don't see it, click here.)



WASHINGTON -- The second-highest ranking official in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sent a message Monday to whistleblowers at Cincinnati’s VA Medical Center.

“The message to them is thank you,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. "I am grateful to the folks in Cincinnati that are raising the issues."

Gibson said the department takes seriously allegations raised by 34 current and former hospital employees, who raised “urgent concerns about quality of care” at the facility and questioned management practices there.

The Scripps News Washington Bureau and WCPO spent four months investigating whistleblowers' concerns. Our findings include allegations of misconduct by high-level officials at the local and regional office, which have triggered two federal probes.

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“I had Office of Medical Inspector teams on the ground in Cincinnati the very next day,” Gibson said. “We take those allegations very, very seriously. And then as we saw what else was there, we asked the (Inspector General) to come in as well.”

VA Secretary Bob McDonald could have more to say on the topic when he addresses the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The former CEO of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. is likely to face questions about the Cincinnati VA from Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, one of 15 members of the VA oversight committee. Brown’s press secretary said Friday that the senator will ask about the Cincinnati VA when McDonald testifies in the agency’s annual budget hearing.

Brown is one of several Tri-State legislators who are demanding answers from the VA. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky joined the chorus Monday with the public release of a letter to McDonald and a statement:

“Reports of mistreatment of veterans and misconduct by officials at the VA hospital in Cincinnati are disturbing and must be thoroughly investigated. I am monitoring this situation closely, and I urge the Inspector General and VA to complete their investigations swiftly and take decisive action on the findings.”

Gibson said the VA is trying to encourage transparency and trust between the VA and its employees so both can work on “doing the right thing” for veterans and taxpayers.

“We will not be able to create the right veteran experience if we can’t create the right employee experience,” he said. “And that means being able to have open and candid conversation; that means creating an environment where employees see things that are wrong or ways to improve service to veterans, that not only do they feel OK raising their hand, but that they’re encouraged to raise their hand. And recognized and rewarded when they raise their hand. That is a cultural change for this organization. But that is the change that we are about.”