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December 21, 2014

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VA executive: Wait times can be fixed in 2 years

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AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson speaks during a press conference during a visit to a Denver veterans hospital, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Gibson said that the VA’s scheduling problems and personnel investigations can be cleared up in two years.

DENVER — Long wait times for veterans to get health care can be cleared up in two years, along with investigations of employees accused of falsifying data to hide the problem, Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday.

Gibson, who toured the Denver VA hospital, said his department has to change its culture to get employees to take responsibility for solving problems. Most VA workers are dedicated and know change is necessary, he said.

"I really believe that in as little as two years the conversation can completely change," Gibson said.

Asked if that meant both the wait times and the personnel investigations can be resolved in that much time, he said yes.

The department has been shaken by reports of long wait times and that some veterans had died while waiting for treatment. Some workers have been accused of hiding the scheduling problems.

The VA has reported recent progress on reducing delays. An audit released last month showed 46,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments as of mid-June, down from 57,000 in mid-May.

The agency announced last week it planned to fire two supervisors and that four others would be disciplined, all in Colorado and Wyoming. They were accused of falsifying health care data.

Gibson said those were the only personnel investigations completed so far but more employees will be disciplined.

One of the six facing discipline is Ralph Gigliotti, who oversees VA health care facilities in all or parts of nine states in the Rocky Mountain region. The VA did not say what action Gigliotti faced, but he attended Gibson's news conference Wednesday, sitting just to Gibson's right.

He left without speaking and didn't immediately respond to a request for comment left with a spokesman.

Gibson repeated his pledge that whistleblowers would not be retaliated against. The Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group, reported last month that medical professionals nationwide who pointed out problems at the VA suffered retaliation.

Gibson said the Denver veterans hospital was the 14th he has visited in two months. He was headed for hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when he left Colorado.

Gibson became deputy secretary in February and was appointed acting secretary when retired Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned in late May amid the scandal. Robert McDonald was confirmed as the new secretary last week.

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