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VA deputy secretary: Changes coming to Colorado health care system

August 6, 2014 Updated: August 6, 2014 at 8:23 pm
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DENVER - The deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Wednesday changes specific to the Eastern Colorado Health Care System, including the Colorado Springs clinic, stemming from the department's unflattering audit of healthcare access wait times.

"We still take too long to deliver decisions to our veterans, we still don't meet our quality standards and there are occasions where the quality of our data, the integrity of our data ... has been called into question," Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said after a day of touring Colorado VA health care facilities and meeting with employees.

Gibson said $12.6 million will be made available to Eastern Colorado facilities to accelerate access to care. Additionally, he said, the facilities have started expanding their care hours and have increased the use of contracts with community partners to get patients on wait lists.

The department was rocked by scandal earlier this year when an investigation at Phoenix health care facilities found secret wait lists with thousands of veterans who were unable to access care.

Since then, whistleblowers at facilities in Colorado Springs, Grand Junction and Fort Collins have said employees falsified records to make wait times appear shorter. The VA inspector general is looking into the allegations, and issued a report last week showing documents had been falsified at the Fort Collins facility.

Gibson announced shortly after the Fort Collins report was released that he recommended two employees at the facility be removed and four others face other disciplinary actions.

But while Gibson pledged Wednesday to protect whistleblowers while holding employees accountable for their actions, he said he had no idea where the investigations in Colorado or at other facilities across the nation were in the process.

"I got one," Gibson said. "And we've taken action on it."

Gibson, who has been with the department for five months, pledged to completely overhaul the nation's veteran healthcare system in two years, including transforming the culture of the agency.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, wished Gibson luck Wednesday.

"These problems are really deep," Coffman said. "I think we've got a team at the top that I hope is going to be able to make a difference and I hope they can. This is an organization that I think is mired in bureaucratic incompetence and quite frankly corruption. So you've got a heavy lift."

Coffman chairs the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations.

Coffman, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, met with Gibson at the Denver VA Medical Center, 1055 Clermont St.

Gibson also toured the half-constructed Denver medical center that will replace the Clermont facility. Coffman said it looks like it will be 2017 before that hospital opens its doors, noting its gone millions over budget and years over schedule.

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Contact Megan Schrader: 719-636-0644

Twitter @CapitolSchrader

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