The new acting head of the Veterans Administration was in North Carolina Thursday, visiting a hospital that suffers from some of the worst wait times in the agency, according to a recent audit.
Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson met with congressional staffers and hospital employees at the Fayetteville VA medical center before answering questions from the media who were assembled on site.
Gibson acknowledged his agency has to repair its image by improving service.
"We hope to earn trust back," Gibson said. "We don't expect it to be given. We expect to have to earn it."
The hospital in Fayetteville has contacted the vast majority of the 2,200 veterans who have been waiting more than a month for an appointment, Gibson said.
The acting secretary is sending the hospital $7.4 million to help pay for overtime and other expenses so patients can be seen sooner.
The VA clinics in Wilmington and Brunswick County could be getting more attention as well. Gibson ordered medical center directors based in hospitals, like the one in Fayetteville, to visit their outlying clinics at least once a month.
"They are down there face to face personally engaging with those that are involved in scheduling, assessing that individual's ability to do the job and do it right and identifying any obstacles to doing the job and doing it right," he said.
Hanging over the press conference was the scandal at the VA hospital in Phoenix where employees allegedly manipulated patient wait times to earn bonuses.
Gibson said he will not allow willful misconduct, but he passionately defended his agency's workforce.
"Have we got problems? Yes we do. And I own them," a passionate Gibson said. "From the moment that I lowered my right hand taking the oath, I own those problems, and my commitment is that we're going to deal with those problems. But I'm not going to see people sit there and say that we've got 350,000 people that aren't worth a crap. It's wrong."
The North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs recently announced plans to set-up offices in every VA medical facility in the state to help veterans and employees report alleged violations.
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