VA deputy secretary talks patient care, wait times

VIDEO: VA deputy secretary talks patient care, wait times

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A top official from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was in Charleston talking about access to care.

Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson stopped by Charleston's VA Medical Center Friday afternoon.

"We're going to have to earn back that trust. It has been eroded over the previous months," Gibson said.

Gibson says Charleston's VA Center ranks in the top 10 percent in the country with wait times for primary care dropping from about a month to just a few days.

"For the veteran that needs to be seen today, 30 days as a standard, as a wait time standard is completely irrelevant," Gibson said."So, one of the things you should expect to see is a significant amount of activity for veterans who call in and say I really need to see a doctor."

Gibson says that's been accomplished in a few different ways such as additional clinic hours and growing the staff by 80.

"It makes a big difference in how we carry on with our daily lives. It's hard enough when you're disabled and restricted in your daily life as it is," said Veteran Jennifer Hanshew.

Hanshew, who served in the Air Force for 13 years, says she's relieved to see some improvement after years of inefficiency.

"It scares you. This is what we depend on for livelihood, and it scares you, and it's hard to believe someone wouldn't care enough," Hanshew said.

Gibson says word of Ralph H. Johnson's reputation is spreading. He says this year the VA experienced its largest patient growth ever.

"We're going to try to hire to a staffing level above 100 percent because we know we are going to have some amount of turnover," Gibson said."We know there are going to be instances where providers are out sick or where somebody has to go on maternity leave, and we're going to need to be able to fill-in, and we don't want the veteran to be the shock absorber."

He says while the outlook is promising, he will not allow hospital leadership to become complacent.

"There's room to improve, and I expect to see continued improvement," Gibson said. "As soon as you feel like you've arrived, that's where you better be looking at yourself in the mirror."

Gibson says he anticipates some strain on facilities across the country as a million service members and family members are expected to transition out of the active force over the next four years.

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