By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
US Representative Martha Roby said in a statement afterwards, “I wanted to update you on the meeting I had with Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson. As you know, he was in town at my request for an update on progress at the Central Alabama VA.”
Rep. Roby continued, “We had a good meeting, and I appreciate how responsive Mr. Gibson and regional director Tom Smith have been to our concerns. There have been strides made toward hiring more doctors, nurses and medical support staff, but we need that to start translating into better access to care. The fact is we still have more than 4,000 veteran patients who have waited longer than 90 days without an appointment. That’s unacceptable, and I’m going to keep pushing the VA to improve until we make this right. The top priority is getting a permanent director who is both empowered and driven to make the necessary changes, and it looks like we are close.”
The conservative congresswoman said, “One issue we discussed at length was repairing CAVHCS relationship with local hospitals and other providers. Why is that important? Well, the vast majority of that 4,000 number I mentioned comes from those who have been referred to outside physicians but are awaiting appointments. CAVHCS has had trouble in the past keeping up with payments on contracts, so many local providers are naturally hesitant. Mr. Gibson and Mr. Smith expressed great interest in working with me to correct this problem and pursuing more community partnerships that will benefit our veterans.”
Rep. Roby concluded, “Of course, there were a number of other topics discussed, from ongoing whistle-blower concerns to communication issues to my legislation compelling a “take-over” of failing VA facilities. I won’t get into all that right now, but I will say that it is a good thing we continue to have the attention of top VA leaders.”
Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVCHS) Director James Talton and Chief of Staff Dr. Cliff Robinson were both removed from their positions last fall at the very troubled Montgomery VA facility. US Representative Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery and US Senator Richard Shelby (R) from Alabama both urged management changes at CAVHCS after it was discovered that patients wait times were being falsified in official reports to Congress and that many veterans in need of care were waiting weeks and months for the care that they were entitled to. Talton was subsequently fired for his job performance, to date the only fired for their role in the VA scandal.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has taken over at the VA after the scandal broke.
Sen. Shelby and Rep. Roby jointly wrote a letter to Secretary McDonald prior to Talton’s departure:
“Reports regarding the treatment of veterans in Alabama are dire and appalling. While we have yet to see a comprehensive account of the allegations, it is our understanding that the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) has the eighth longest average wait times in the nation for veterans to receive care, even with its recorded manipulated recordkeeping. Whistleblowers allege that veterans’ x-rays have been lost, which may have in turn led to cancer and other life-threatening conditions going untreated. The leadership of the CAVHCS is alleged to have tolerated or encouraged whistleblower intimidation and retaliation, which possibly continued and exacerbated the abuse. To date, we do not believe that proper action has been taken to mitigate these allegations. Instead of swiftly working to fix the serious problems at the CAVHCS, all reports suggest that its leaders are focused on dodging blame and personal cost rather than serving veterans and providing the care and treatment promised. We have lost trust in the leadership at the CAVHCS.”
Allegations have been made that one CAVHCS employee actually drove a troubled vet to a local crack house, bought the vet drugs, and hired the services of a prostitute while on the unauthorized “field trip.” The VA pulmonologist who was discovered to have falsified more than 1,200 patient records and received a “satisfactory performance” review from the VA despite being a repeat offender.
Rep. Roby’s office began investigating serious allegations of mismanagement, negligence and cover-up within Central Alabama’s VA system over a year ago. Two senior members of her staff were assigned to meet with whistleblowers and to identify and expose problems within the system.
Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.