November 10, 2014 / 5:53 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. veterans agency to reorganize around customer service

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Veterans Affairs Department on Monday launched a broad reorganization aimed at providing a single access point to the agency’s services as it seeks to dig itself out of a massive scandal over long waiting times for health care.

A military veteran checks the sizing of a suit jacket in San Francisco, California November 10, 2014. Homeless and low-income veterans received a complete suit and tips on how to look for job and housing interviews, a day before Veteran's Day. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Under the plan, announced by VA Secretary Bob McDonald on the eve of the Veterans Day holiday, the VA will appoint a new chief customer service officer and establish a single website or phone access point for all VA services by region from medical care to disability benefits to home loans.

The new customer service officer will report directly to McDonald, a former chief executive of consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble Co who took charge of the agency in July.

“We’ve begun what may become the largest restructuring in the department’s history,” McDonald told a forum sponsored by the Washington Post on Monday. “We call that reorganization My VA. That’s how we want veterans to view it.”

He said the reorganization, which also will combine support services for various VA divisions, is designed to change the agency’s culture to create better outcomes for veterans.

The VA scandal revealed that regional agency officials in some cases had covered up months-long waiting lists for medical appointments in order to meet internal goals that enabled them to receive bonus awards.

Representative Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, expressed frustration with the lack of firings at the agency, despite new disciplinary powers granted to McDonald in legislation passed in July.

“New plans, initiatives and organizational structures are all well and good, but they will not produce their intended results until VA rids itself of the employees who have shaken veterans’ trust in the system. So far VA hasn’t done that,” Miller said in a statement on the VA’s restructuring.

On Sunday, McDonald said in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” that he is considering taking disciplinary actions, including firings, of up to 1,000 VA staff. He added that such actions were still arduous, requiring sound legal grounds and the ability to survive an appeal.

The July legislation also provided $16 billion for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses and provide outside medical care to veterans who have to wait 30 days or more for an appointment or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by John Whitesides and Tom Brown

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