Miller: Next VA chief must ‘roll up sleeves’

Greg Nash

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) on Wednesday said the next head of the Veterans Affairs Department must be willing to travel to the agency’s clinics and possibly ignore the advice of subordinates.

“I think that it is very important at this point that the person that becomes the next secretary will roll up their sleeves and get out into the field and not just take what his lieutenants tell him as fact,” Miller told a small group of reporters on Capitol Hill. “He needs to find that fact for himself.”

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Miller’s echo those former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki made in his last formal appearance before resigning last Friday.

“I was too trusting of some, and I accepted as accurate reports that I now know to be misleading with regard to patient wait times,” he said at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference.

Shinseki stepped down after a pair of reports uncovered massive fraud and tampering with patient waiting lists at VA medical facilities across the country.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson on Wednesday announced he would travel to an agency hospital in Phoenix that an interim inspector general report said kept 1,700 patients off official wait lists.

In addition, White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, who is overseeing an administration-backed audit of the agency, will visit two VA facilities in Ohio later this week, the Associated Press reported.

Shinseki got “in trouble” because “he’s used to, as a four-star general, giving orders and those orders being followed,” according to Miller. “But in this bureaucracy the bureaucracy caused the fall.”

Miller said he did not know anything outside of media reports about Cleveland Clinic chief executive Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, whom the White House has allegedly approached to run the troubled agency.

But, Miller said, Cosgrove “obviously understands what it takes to run a very large healthcare system.” 

In his first public comments as acting VA chief, Gibson on Wednesday said “we are moving immediately to get veterans off the waiting lists and into clinics and we’re taking action to fix the systemic problems that allowed these unacceptable waits to occur."

“We’ve demonstrated in the past our ability to tackle tough challenges,” he said at a White House event on veterans homelessness hosted by first lady Michelle Obama.