Varied reaction in Cheyenne to Shinseki resignation

Jun 2, 2014 McClatchy Newspapers

CHEYENNE -- Local veterans had mixed reactions over the resignation Friday of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who left the position amid a growing scandal over excessive waiting times and cover-ups of what he called "systemic" problems in the VA health-care system.

An initial review of the system found that the misconduct "has not been limited to a few VA facilities, but many across the country," where officials falsified records to hide the amount of time veterans had to wait to receive medical care.

The scandal has hit close to home, given that Cheyenne's VA is among those impacted. Earlier this month, a Cheyenne VA nurse, David Newman, was placed on administrative leave after an e-mail he drafted discussing "gaming the system" came to light.

Specifically, the e-mail made reference to altering records to show that veterans saw doctors within a 14-day time limit, whether or not they actually did.

"You have to know the rules of the game you are playing," the e-mail read. "And when we exceed the 14-day measure, the front office gets very upset."

In light of Shinseki's resignation, the Cheyenne VA Medical Center issued a news release Friday stating that it takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct "very seriously."

"Veterans must feel safe walking into our VA facilities, and VA employees must work continuously to provide them with the highest quality care," the release read. "That is our standard. Veterans deserve to have full faith in their VA care. Where we have failed to meet those commitments, we will redouble our efforts to deliver timely care to patients with compassion and integrity. We will identify problems and resolve these issues expediently."

Due to the ongoing investigation, the Cheyenne VA Medical Center declined to comment further, though it did point to Shinseki's resignation as a concrete step toward the VA taking accountability for senior leadership failures.

Russ Telander, the commander of American Legion Post 6 in Cheyenne, said he agreed that Shinseki's resignation was proper, though he took issue with some of the secretary's language.

"I know he's said what happened was indefensible, and I think that's kind of a mild statement because of the number of veterans who suffered or died as a result of this," Telander said. "He's supposed to know what's going on. There's over 1,700 VA health facilities nationwide, and even if this is happening at just a quarter of them, that's way too much."

No deaths due to waiting times have been verified, but critics have alleged them.

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