ATLANTA — The U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough was in Atlanta today meeting with leadership at the Atlanta V.A. Medical Center and U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff.
That’s where Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray caught up with him to ask questions about concerns raised in a series of Channel 2 investigations into problems at the Atlanta V.A.
“Mr. Secretary, there have been repeated instances of leadership here in Atlanta knowing about problems but not addressing them until we report. From the mail piled up in the basement to an employee attacking an elderly veteran. At what point do you say, ‘There needs to be a change, a dramatic change in management or leadership here in Atlanta?,’” Gray asked McDonough.
“So look, I really appreciate it, the aggressive reporting from the press here. Obviously, the most important function of a V.A. facility is that our veterans feel comfortable and trust the care that they’re getting, and the data that we’re getting suggests that that’s improving,” McDonough responded.
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McDonough told reporters meeting with him on the Atlanta V.A. Medical Center campus that the big challenge leading to long wait times some veterans seeking appointments have experienced in Atlanta is a persistent staffing shortage.
“That’s the number one challenge. What I heard upstairs was a very concrete aggressive plans to fill those staffing slots because uniformly we have a view that the kinds of wait times we are experiencing here are completely unacceptable,” McDonough said.
In a series of Channel 2 Action News investigations, we have exposed continued problems with care and management at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.
Former V.A. employee Lawrence Gaillard was indicted by a Fulton County Grand Jury this summer after Channel 2 first exclusively reported that the then V.A. Patient Advocate was captured on surveillance video allegedly brutally beating a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran.
Along with our partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, we also reported on stacks of mail allowed to pile up in a basement at the Atlanta V.A. for nearly a year. The V.A. Inspector General later confirmed that more than half the 17,000 pieces of mail were patient medical documents.
“I think it is fair, that there have been instances in the past when there has been insufficient accountability, slow to recognize enormity of challenges,” McDonough said.
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U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff told Gray that he remains in regular contact with V.A. leadership in Atlanta and with the Secretary over the problems Channel 2 has uncovered.
“I want to commend you and your team, Justin, for the investigative work that you’ve done to reveal significant shortcomings,” Ossoff told Gray.
Ossoff and McDonough were in Atlanta to promote the passage of bipartisan legislation to expand V.A. benefits. There is new help available particularly for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were potentially exposed to toxic chemicals.
“We have passed this congress the most significant strengthening of veterans health care in a generation and we did it on a bipartisan basis,” Ossoff said.
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