VA secretary promises more leadership changes after investigators’ rebuke

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday promised another department leadership shakeup in the wake of yet another scathing inspector general report that accused VA officials of additional improper behavior. which overshadowed the goal of improving patient care.

This time, the report wasn’t focused on Shulkin himself, as has been the case with a series of scandals at the department in recent weeks.

Instead, the new report focuses on errors at the Washington DC VA Medical Center that lead to the ouster of the hospital’s chief executive last year and an ensuing slew of resignations as investigators worked through problems with supply shortages, improper sterilization of medical equipment and inadequate staffing at the campus.

“Failed leadership at multiple levels within VA put patients and assets at the DC VA Medical Center at unnecessary risk and resulted in a breakdown of core services,” VA Inspector General Michael Missal said in a statement accompanying the report. “It created a climate of complacency that allowed these conditions to exist for years.”

In a hastily called press conference at the hospital Wednesday morning, Shulkin announced plans for a series of local staff changes and higher-level VA reorganizations.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees protest outside the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 13. Since a travel scandal broke on day later, VA Secretary David Shulkin has been under attack from outside critics questioning his ethics and internal rivals unhappy with his policy moves. (Leo Shane III/Staff)

Two regional directors — one for the New England VA network, one for the Arizona and Southwest United States network — will retire in coming days, and the Washington, D.C., network director will be reassigned to another senior level job. A new executive will be put in charge of all three regions to implement a series of reforms.

The VA’s overall procurement program will be overhauled, Shulkin said. All VA hospitals will undergo new hiring and staffing reviews and be subject to unannounced inspections, to ensure similar problems aren’t festering.

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