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VA secretary transparent about department’s ongoing troubles

DENVER -- In a rare public appearance Wednesday, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin opened up with a candid news conference regarding his department’s ongoing troubles.

Shulkin classified the department as being in “critical condition” requiring transparency.

“This is the time to address these chronic problems” Shulkin said.

Suicides

One of the big issues remains veterans' suicides -- 20 a day according to the secretary.

“Of the 20 vets committing suicide, six are in the VA system and 14 are not,” Shulkin said.

Wait times

Shulkin said veterans wait more than 60 days for primary care at 30-plus sites nationwide. In Colorado, Alamosa’s VA site is considered the worst at 16 days.

A new website is available that allows veterans to track how long it might take to get an appointment.

A new hotline at 855-948-2311 will launch Thursday that veterans can call and report problems as well.

Waste and abuse

The secretary did not specifically mention the Aurora VA hospital, which was supposed to open three years ago and is now more than $1 billion over budget.

He did mention a new commission tasked with exposing abuse in the VA.

Firing bad employees

At least one VA worker in Denver stayed on his job after being caught shooting up drugs and on Wednesday, the secretary implied it has gotten worse.

“We have to wait more than a month to fire a  psychiatrist who was caught using pornography on his iPad while seeing his patient,” Shulkin said.

Shuklin suggested more money in the budget, more accountability and new congressional laws will improve conditions going forward.

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