VA Secretary visits Florida veterans' facilities



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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald said during a tour of a Tampa veterans' hospital Wednesday that he wants to foster a culture of transparency at the agency after a summer of scandal over chronic delays for patients.

"We know that there have been problems in the VA," he said. "We know that trust has been compromised."

McDonald spoke to reporters and met with staff at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa. He also toured the VA's St. Petersburg Regional Office and is scheduled Thursday to visit the Orlando VA Medical Center's Lake Nona Campus.

McDonald took over in July as President Barack Obama's choice to head a beleaguered agency plagued by long veterans' waits for health care and cases of VA workers falsifying records to cover it up. He's been visiting VA centers around the country and has had hospitals hold town meetings.

McDonald was an Army Ranger and a long-time executive of the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co.

He said there's been a 57 percent reduction in the backlog of veterans' benefits claims nationwide.

"We obviously have more work to do. We need to do a better job in forecasting those claims," McDonald said.

McDonald discussed the need to change the entire culture of the VA. He spoke of everything from recruiting doctors to whistleblowers.

"We do not tolerate retaliation, in fact, we celebrate whistleblowers," he said. "In fact, I want every employee to be a whistleblower."

The Veterans Affairs Department said Monday it has settled complaints filed by three employees who faced retaliation after filing whistleblower complaints about the troubled Phoenix VA hospital. McDonald wouldn't discuss specific cases.

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Tamara Lush

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