(Bloomberg) — The Obama administration plans to convene a panel of advisers to suggest ways the Department of Veterans Affairs can improve customer service after reports last year of deaths, treatment delays and substandard care in veterans’ hospitals.
Details about the panel will be announced later today by President Barack Obama at a round-table discussion at the VA facility in Phoenix, according to a White House statement. The panel also will suggest how to improve patient outcomes.
The Phoenix facility was at the center of criticism over the treatment of veterans after allegations that patients were waiting months for basic medical care. A subsequent investigation by the administration revealed systemic management failures and substandard care across the country.
While in Phoenix, Obama will meet with veterans, VA employees and veterans organizations, and discuss efforts to improve the VA and identify where more needs to be done, according to the statement.
“Everything’s on the table in terms of this discussion,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Thursday.
Mismanagement at the agency forced the resignation of retired Army General Eric Shinseki as VA secretary. Congress subsequently passed a $16.3 billion bill to overhaul the agency. Obama’s failure to visit the Phoenix VA facility in January while in town for an event on his administration’s housing policies drew criticism from veterans’ groups and Republican lawmakers.
Critics news conference
Sen. John McCain, one of those critics, plans to hold a news conference at the facility on today after the president’s visit. He’ll be joined by his fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.
Shinseki’s replacement, Robert McDonald, has faced struggles of his own. Last month, McDonald apologized after misstating that he had served in the U.S. military special forces. He’s also been criticized for overstating the number of employees fired during an interview with “Meet the Press.”
The program introduced to assist veterans who face long wait times at VA facilities has stumbled, with many patients complaining the program is too restrictive. In a survey released by the Veterans of Foreign Wars earlier this month, 80 percent of those who said they should be eligible for the program said they were not afforded the choice to receive care outside of the VA.
Administration officials say they are making progress to improve care and address mismanagement.