Obama: A 'new culture of accountability' at Veterans Affairs
BY BRIAN HUGHES | AUGUST 26, 2014 | 1:40 PM
President Obama on Tuesday insisted that his administration has improved access to medical care at beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, telling veterans that the White House would not sweep aside chronically ignored health care problems.
“We’re focused on this at the highest levels,” Obama told those gathered at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. “We are going to get to the bottom of these problems. We’re going to fix what is wrong. We’re going to do right by you and we are going to do right by your families — and that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here.
“We’re instituting a new culture of accountability,” Obama added.
The president also talked up new VA Secretary Robert McDonald, noting that the former Procter & Gamble CEO “doesn’t play” and received 97 votes for confirmation in the deeply divided Senate.
Obama traveled to the Tar Heel State in an attempt to convince veterans that his administration was cracking down on a massive backlog in disability claims, phony wait lists and substandard care at VA hospitals. Such shortcomings came to a head after whistleblowers linked the treatment delays to the deaths of dozens of veterans in Phoenix.
The president announced a series of executive actions Tuesday meant to enhance mental health services at the VA and deter suicides among former members of the military. The president also said that the disability claims backlog had been reduced by more than 50 percent since March 2013 and the number of homeless veterans has dropped by one-third over the past four years.
And he trumpeted administration efforts to reach out to 250,000 veterans in the wake of the revelations about abysmal care at VA hospitals. Obama also said that those responsible for the problems would face disciplinary action, including dismissals.
“The misconduct we’ve seen at too many facilities — with long wait times and veterans denied care, folks cooking the books — is outrageous and inexcusable,” Obama said to widespread applause. “I said, ‘We will not tolerate it.’ And we will not.”