New VA secretary calls for change during speech in Las Vegas

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New VA secretary calls for change during speech in Las Vegas

By Michael Lopardi. CREATED Aug 9, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The new secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs said the agency needs critical cultural changes and accountability during his first formal speech to veterans on Saturday.

Secretary Robert McDonald acknowledged problems with VA health care in his remarks at the Disabled American Veteran national convention at Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The VA has been under fire nationwide for its treatment of veterans.

"Right now, veterans are in need, and we have much work to do to transform VA into the provider of choice for veterans’ healthcare," McDonald said.

McDonald said the problems facing the agency include veterans waiting too long for care, an old scheduling sytem, some employees trying to game the system and lack of accountability for employees.

He called on vets to help him recruit the best medical professionals to turn things around.

The new secretary announced he is establishing a board of physicians to determine best practices for veterans' health care. He noted that the agency has suspended bonuses and contacted thousands of veterans to schedule medical appointments.

Later in the day during a trip to the VA hospital in North Las Vegas, McDonald announced the Southern Nevada health care system was set to receive an additional $12 million as part of the recently passed reform law.

Local veterans have complained about long wait times to see primary care doctors. The secretary said the region needs an additional 500 medical professionals, a task he acknowledged will not be easy to complete.

"We've got to make sure that whatever we do, the ultimate trust is regained by having happy, satisfied veterans in our care," McDonald said.

Action News also asked about the backlog in disability claims. The Reno Regional Office handles most claims for Nevada and the state's veterans have some of the longest wait times in the country. Members of Nevada's Congressional delegation have called the Reno office among the worst in the nation. McDonald said he plans to personally visit the Reno office in about two weeks to get a closer look at the problem.