VA leader announces major reorganization to improve veteran care

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – The leader of the Veterans Affairs Department announced his plans to reorganize the agency on Monday. The goal is to make it easier for veterans to access the care they need.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald called the restructuring the largest in the department’s history. He said the major focus will be on customer service.

The VA released a four-point outline of McDonald’s plan Monday afternoon; it includes a link to the “Idea House” website — a new place for employee to provide feedback on improvements in the VA.

McDonald said he plans to create a position for a chief customer service officer. He said he wants to streamline Veterans Affairs. That includes plans to reduce regional divisions in the VA.

Currently there are nine separate regional structures of varying size. Veterans should be able to communicate with officials in a single region to solve problems, McDonald said. Under the current structure, a veteran may live in one VA region for health care, another region for mortgage services and a third for veterans’ benefits such as pensions.

The VA also has at least a dozen websites, many with their own user names and passwords. Eventually, McDonald would like all veterans to have one user name and password for all VA services. McDonald hopes to complete the reorganization within a year.

“We call that reorganization ‘My VA’ because that’s how we want veterans to view it,” McDonald said Monday at a Washington Post forum. “We want them to view us as their VA. They know who to contact, they know where to go on the websites, they know what benefits are available, and they can easily connect with us to get the benefits and the services that they’ve already earned and deserve.”

The VA has not yet released details about the reorganization would affect Fayetteville or Durham VA facilities.

McDonald also said he has plans to fire or discipline thousands of employees. He has received one report that recommends the firing of 35 people and another report that recommends that 1,000 people are let go. Because firing government employees can take multiple steps and lots of time, all of those workers may not lose their jobs. However, McDonald said on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Sunday that “a lot of people” are on administrative leave.

McDonald said the VA needs 28,000 new health care workers.

“It provides $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. And that was one of our deficiencies,” McDonald said Monday. “It provides another $10 billion to fund additional purchase care while building our internal capability.”

That additional $10 billion will pay for veterans to get easy access to health care either at a VA or a non-VA facility. Congress passed the legislation in August authorizing the VA to make the changes.

McDonald, a former executive at Proctor & Gamble, replaced former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in July after it became known that some VA facilities failed to provide timely and necessary care for patients.

The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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