Hours after the Senate unanimously confirmed President Obama’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday, the agency announced that it was proposing disciplinary action against six employees at VA healthcare facilities in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Fort Collins, Colo.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the actions were part of the agency’s effort to rebuild trust with veterans after an internal audit found that veterans had to wait months for medical appointments and that VA medical centers were covering up the delays.
Based on a review by the department's inspector general and other internal investigations, the VA said disciplinary actions would be sought against six employees at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center and Fort Collins Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.
The VA said supervisors in those facilities had personally manipulated data, instructed their subordinates to manipulate data and withheld accurate information from their superiors. Official proposed that two supervisors be removed from federal service and that other supervisors be suspended, demoted or admonished.
“Employees who have been found to have manipulated data, withheld accurate information from their supervisors, and affected the timeliness of care veterans receive do not reflect VA’s values, and their actions will not be tolerated,” Gibson said in a statement on the VA’s website.
Gibson was named last month to temporarily replace former VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, who resigned amid the agency’s growing problems.
Earlier Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Shinseki’s permanent replacement, Robert McDonald, by a 97-0 vote.
McDonald, former chief executive of Procter & Gamble and a West Point graduate, is the eighth VA secretary nominee to be unanimously approved by the Senate since the position was created in 1989.
McDonald comes from a military family and served five years in the Army, rising to the rank of captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.
McDonald also spent 33 years at Procter & Gamble, an experience many senators say will be a boon for leading the vast bureaucracy and restoring accountability to the veterans healthcare system.
McDonald promised to fix the “systematic failures” at the agency and take a series of immediate actions within his first 90 days to deliver prompt and necessary reforms.
"This is the type of leader we need at the VA at this very crucial time," said Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.).
Senators from both sides of the aisle lined up Tuesday to tout McDonald's accomplishments and appeared to be eager to install him at the helm of the agency.
"It certainly seems clear to me that Mr. McDonald is the right person to lead the VA," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), adding that McDonald was "capable of restoring hope in veterans so they can trust the agency, the department, that was created for their benefit."
Veterans service groups lauded the Senate's approval, and many emphasized that McDonald's confirmation was not the final step in the long path of VA reform.
"Secretary McDonald is inheriting a VA in crisis," said John Stroud, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. "But he also inherits a VA that is worth saving."
Lawmakers used the floor debate time Tuesday to push consideration of legislation they say is needed, along with the leadership change, to reform the agency.
The proposed bill, which was approved by a joint conference committee late Monday, allocates roughly $17 billion in emergency funds to overhaul the VA system and grants McDonald new authority to fire or demote senior officials for poor performance and dishonesty.
The legislation is expected to be formally approved by the House and Senate this week before lawmakers leave for their August break.
"We are at a very important moment," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on the Senate floor. "It seems to me that if this nation stands for anything, it must protect and defend those who protected and defended us."