US VA Sec. McDonald Talks Vets Healthcare in First State - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

US VA Sec. McDonald Talks Vets Healthcare in First State

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - The US Secretary of Veterans Affairs visited the First State Monday.

Sec. Robert McDonald took over as head of Veterans Affairs last summer. He replaced Gen. Eric Shinseki. Shinseki resigned after a major scandal at the department. There were issues with excessive wait times for service at VA medical facilities. Reports have showed delays in receiving care may have played into the deaths of multiple vets nationwide.

Sec. McDonald has vowed to fix issues at the VA system. He says there have been improvements. But changes are taking time both across America and in Delaware.

There about 75,000 veterans in Delaware. And there have been issues for some of them trying to get healthcare through the VA.

David Skocik, Delaware Veterans Coalition President, says he used to hear about issues at the outpatient facility in Dover.

"They were experiencing some rescheduling of appointments, because physicians were not being hired," he said. "They were trying to hire. But a lot of times a physician will come in and turn it down or get a better offer somewhere."

Hiring more people is one of the big things McDonald talked about at the VA hospital in Wilmington. It's Delaware's main healthcare facility for vets and the only one with in-patient services.

"One of the ways we've improved access to care is we've hired, hired more providers. We've hired over 8,000 people. Uh, and, uh, of those 8,000 almost 1,000 are doctors, over 1,000 are nurses," he said. "Secondly, we've expanded clinic hours. We've, uh expanded new facilities."

The Office of the Inspector General is investigation scheduling procedures at dozens of VA facilities nationwide, including the one in Wilmington. But after months of work, still no reports have been released.

"I don't know the schedule of when this one will specifically be released," McDonald said. "But I can guarantee you, as soon as we get it, we will work hard to remediate any issues he found, if there are any."

McDonald's visit to Delaware also included meeting with state veterans leaders, like Skocik, Monday. Skocik says based on that meeting he believes the VA is making progress under McDonald, if slowly.

"We understand these kinds of things take time. It doesn't mean we don't hold them accountable and ask questions, because that, that's our job."

McDonald also stopped at the university to talk with nursing students as his department looks to hire more healthcare workers.

Last week lawmakers in Washington DC questioned McDonald on the pace at which things are changing at the VA.

They zeroed in on a new, but dramatically under-utilized program intended to help veterans avoid long waits. The department started mailing out "Choice Cards" in November. The program is designed to let vets who have waited at least a month for an appointment to get VA-paid care from a private doctor.

About 8.5 million cards were sent to veterans. But only around 27,000 have made appointments so far through the program.

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