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VA Secretary Visits American Legion, As Investigations Continue At Cincinnati VA

Ann Thompson
Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald at right.

A nationally appointed committee is close to taking testimony in whistleblower cases at Cincinnati VA Medical Center. Acting Director Glenn Costie, during an interview with reporters at the American Legion Convention Wednesday, said Dr. Gene Goldman will lead the board made up of three to four people.

More than 30 people have been asked to testify in the case that primarily centers around Dr. Barbara Temeck. She alleges nearly three dozen former and current staff members, who have complained both publicly and in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald about cost-cutting moves  and hospital safety are retaliating against her because they are being financially impacted.

Separately, McDonald told reporters Wednesday a new Cincinnati VA director will be appointed next month.

The news conference with reporters followed a speech by McDonald to American Legion members where he said the federal veterans' health care system is nowhere near perfect today, but substantial progress has been made over the past two years.

The media, McDonald said, has largely ignored the progress that has been made in delivering veterans health care through the VA system.

"You've heard many times that the VA is broken,'' McDonald said. "I disagree. The VA can be and is being reformed."

Yes, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble said, there are VA employees who have not done their jobs, but they are being weeded out of the system.

"It's a gross misrepresentation to cherry-pick one of them and hold that person up as an example of all," said McDonald.

But, since he was confirmed as VA secretary by the Senate in 2014, McDonald said 3,755 employees who weren't doing their jobs have been fired on his watch.

"But we can't fire our way to excellence,'' said McDonald, who took over in the middle of a large-scale national scandal over veterans' wait times for approval and treatment at VA Medical Centers.  "And excellence is what we are after. We're going to look back at 2016 as the year we turned the corner."

But McDonald, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said the Republican-controlled U.S. House cut $1.5 billion in funding from President Obama's budget proposal and urged the American Legion to lobby Congress to restore the funding.

"Only Congress can pass legislation that will make the VA able to compete with health care in the private sector,'' McDonald said