Veterans Affairs unveils new structure

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Monday rolled out what he said was the “largest reorganization” in the department’s history in a bid to provide better service to veterans and end the long waits for care that led to the resignation of his predecessor.

The reorganization will establish a new agency-wide customer service organization intended to ensure “top level customer service to veterans,” McDonald said in a statement.

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A new chief customer service officer will report directly to the agency’s secretary and will be responsible for responding to the expectations of veteran customers.

McDonald said a “single regional framework” will also be established to simplify internal coordination and improve customer service. He said it would allow veterans to navigate the agency more easily.

The agency will also establish community veteran advisory councils to better coordinate services with local and state partners, and launch an internal site where employees can propose solutions and vote on the best ones.

The realignment comes after the one of the worst scandal’s in the VA’s history. Tens of thousands of veterans around the country were found to have waited months to get healthcare. Officials within the VA covered up the long waiting times.

The scandal led to bipartisan criticism of the agency and the firing of former VA Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiVA might not be able to end veteran homelessness, but we shouldn't stop trying Bill HR 2333 is a good step to helping curb veteran suicide  Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems MORE.

Left out of Monday’s announcement was any mention of new firings. A bipartisan law passed by Congress this summer gave the VA chief new leverage to dismiss executives and managers, pending an appeals process.

Republican lawmakers have pressured McDonald to dismiss employees found to be involved covering up patient wait times. In an interview with CNN that coincided with the announcement, McDonald said it is “not in his interest to take a long time in disciplining people.”

If members of Congress want him to use a different procedure to fire employees “they need to pass another law,” he said.

He said the agency is moving to take action against about 35 people and that roughly 1,000 employees could be punished soon.

McDonald said he didn’t think additional oversight by Congress was necessary.

“I think we have a lot of oversight now. I don’t think this is about oversight. I think this is about getting a job done,” he said.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers warned that any reorganization of the VA must provide tangible results.

“While I welcome this important initiative, the reorganization must be more than rhetoric and reshuffling management positions on paper to bring a real break with the past," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee said in a statement.

He said the reorganization “responds directly to the needs and concerns of veterans that I hear around Connecticut,” but that “real action” would be required to “provide nimble, world-class, patient-centered care and services.”