Roe calls for more accountability within VA Medical system

Published 9:43 am Monday, October 3, 2016


Amid another growing scandal surrounding the Veterans Affairs Medical System, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., is calling for answers and increased accountability.
In a story published by the Associated Press on Sept. 26, the former director of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line Greg Hughes alleges that more than one-third of calls to the suicide crisis line for veterans are not being answered by appropriately trained staff because of poor work habits and other issues. In the AP story, Hughes said crisis line workers handle fewer than five calls per day and leave before their shifts end even though the Crisis Line has seen a sharp increase in calls in recent years.
The report quotes an internal e-mail from Hughes to others at the VA system as saying crisis line staff members “spend very little time on the phone or engaged in assigned productive activity” and that the coverage at the Crisis Line has suffered “because we have staff who routinely request to leave early.” The AP report said according to Hughes, an average of 35 to 40 percent of crisis calls received in May rolled over to back-up centers where workers have less training to deal with veterans’ problems.
Hughes resigned his post as director of the Crisis Line in June, just weeks after sending the internal e-mails according to the Associated Press.
“Mr. Hughes, the director, quit because he was so frustrated with what was going on,” Roe said, adding Hughes has become a whistle blower on the matter. “Without him, we would never have known this was going on.”
On Thursday, Roe and House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller sent a letter to U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald requesting an explanation from the Secretary detailing how the VA plans to hold employees like those mentioned by Hughes in his report accountable.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Roe told the Elizabethton Star that he has his own idea how those employees should be disciplined by the VA.
“These people need to be fired if they are not taking their charge seriously,” Roe said. “They are taking these veterans lives into their own hands.”
The report on conditions at the Crisis Line given by Hughes are especially troubling due to the high instance of veteran suicide, Roe said.
“As many as 35 to 40 percent of the calls were being rolled over to less trained staff or to a voice mail which wasn’t answered,” Roe said, adding there are many as 20 veterans who commit suicide each day. “If you want to decrease veteran suicide you can’t do it by not answer the phone.”
Roe pointed to the VA’s own statements regarding the health care system dealing with veterans suffering from mental illness.
“The VA’s Undersecretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin, has called for an end to veterans’ suicide, naming it as one of VA’s top priorities, but once again the reality at the VA doesn’t seem to match the rhetoric,” Roe said in his letter to McDonald. “Crisis call centers are critical to the VA’s mission to end veterans’ suicide, which is why it’s troubling to read reports that call center operators do not take their responsibilities seriously.”
With this latest in a string of scandals regarding treatment and services within the VA Medical System, Roe said the “pervasive culture of unaccountability” needs to change at the agency. He said the lack of accountability has continued despite repeated calls for change by Congress, America’s veterans and the public at large.

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