Alabama congresswoman: Complete mistrust of VA

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama congresswoman who serves on the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday she has lost trust in the system.

Republican Rep. Martha Roby of Montgomery said she's found "a culture of complacency" at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and has had difficulty getting accurate, detailed information from Veterans Affairs officials in Alabama and Washington.

"I have complete mistrust in the VA," Roby said. Her assessment came one day after she met with top officials at the Central Alabama VA.

In response, the interim director of the Central Alabama VA, Robin Jackson, said officials share Roby's determination to get the VA system right.

"Alabama veterans should be confident in the quality of their VA health care," Jackson said in a statement. "Our actions will show that we are doing everything possible to regain their trust and set a course for long-term excellence. Our improvements will become more evident in the coming weeks and months."

A VA report released in June said the Central Alabama VA had the seventh-longest waits in the nation for new patients to see a doctor.

At a news conference Tuesday, VA officials said improvements have been made, with the wait time cut from 74 days on May 15 to 48 days on Sept. 1.

"The veterans we are talking to are saying that's not true," Roby said Thursday.

She said veterans tell her they get an appointment scheduled within two weeks, but then it gets canceled. She added that she tried to get information Wednesday about how many employees may have been placed on leave for misconduct involving patients, but couldn't.

Last month, the VA put the director and chief of staff at the Central Alabama VA on a paid administrative leave of absence and named interim leadership. Roby said she made it clear to the new leaders Wednesday that she won't be satisfied until she starts hearing good reviews from veterans.

"For me, the litmus test is whether or not veterans are consistently able to access the best-quality care in a timely manner," she said.

The VA installed new leadership at the Central Alabama VA after reports of employees altering appointment records to mask how long veterans waited for appointments and not reading hundreds of X-rays. The change also followed serious accusations against employees, including one worker taking a patient to a crack house to buy drugs.

Jackson said Thursday the VA is taking strong actions against employees who put veterans in harm's way or commit willful misconduct. He said the VA plans to be "as transparent as possible," but he offered no details on any employee disciplinary actions.

The Central Alabama VA serves about 42,000 veterans, with major medical facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee and clinics in Monroeville, Fort Rucker and Dothan in Alabama and in Columbus, Georgia.

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