Scandal fallout prompts re-organization at Veterans Affairs

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Just a day before Americans observe Veterans Day, there is fallout from a scandal that rocked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Critics of the VA claimed some veterans died while waiting for medical care at VA facilities, and shortcomings within the agency were covered up, leading to a criminal investigation.

The scandal led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and a number of changes are taking place at the VA in Washington, and at medical centers across the country, including the VA hospital in Buffalo.

It’s the largest re-organization in the department’s history as the Department of Veterans Affairs tries to excise the turmoil, with the centerpiece being what the new VA Secretary Robert McDonald calls “MyVA”.

“They know who to contact, they know where to go on websites, they know what benefits are available, and they can easily connect with us to get the benefits and the services that they have already earned and deserved,” Secretary McDonald said in a Washington speech on Monday.

McDonald also said on CBS Network’s “60 Minutes”, he is formulating a hit list of agency administrators and supervisors for discipline– including termination: “the report that we have passed up to the Senate committee and House committee has about 35 names on it. I have another report that’s got over 1,000.”

Brian Stiller, the Director of the VA Western New York Healthcare System in Buffalo, said the national shakeup has already led to changes at the local medical center. For instance veterans now have a choice of where they can get medical care, if they can’t get the attention they need within 30 days, or the closest VA facility is more than 40 miles away.

“Veterans will have the option: if we can’t get them in the 30 days, to get their healthcare in the community. We have been partnering with the community all along, since we were given the resources to do it, and it is awesome.”

Vietnam veteran Ted Wilkinson says, the Buffalo VA has improved markedly in the past few years, “we used to call it the VA shuffle.”

Wilkinson said, he didn’t even want to use the Buffalo VA when he came home from Vietnam, “I tried two different times and I was so disappointed I did not, but the last 10 years has been a big turnaround, here in Buffalo. I think I would rather go here than any civilian hospital we have.”

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