- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hoping to recover from a scandal of neglect in the veterans’ health care system, President Obama will announce a series of executive actions Tuesday aimed at improving government services for veterans.

However his speech will come just hours after an Associated Press report that says that Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals scandal cannot be shown to have resulted in the deaths of any veterans.

Mr. Obama will outline the new steps at the American Legion convention in Charlotte, N.C., including an effort to strengthen veterans’ access to mental health care and a program with five major banks to make it easier for military families to reduce their monthly mortgage payments.

The president will also provide details on his administration’s efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans, with nearly 25,000 veterans finding housing in the past four years, the White House said.

Among the other steps the president will announce is an initiative to attract new doctors to the Veterans Affairs system.

The administration was rocked in April by accusations of deaths of veterans whose care was delayed at VA hospitals. An inspector general’s report said delays in care and falsification of scheduling records were widespread in the VA system.

The scandal prompted Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30. The Senate confirmed Robert McDonald as the new secretary in July.

However, AP reported Monday night that VA investigators have found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at the VA hospital in Phoenix that quickly became the epicenter of the scandal.

The Office of Inspector General has been investigating the delays for months, AP reported, and shared a draft report of its findings with VA officials.

In a written memorandum about the report, Mr. McDonald said: “It is important to note that while OIG’s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality-of-care concerns, OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”

Nevertheless, Mr. McDonald’s memo acknowledges that the VA is “in the midst of a very serious crisis” and promised to follow all recommendations from the inspector general’s final report. The inspector general’s final report has not yet been issued.

“We sincerely apologize to all veterans and we will continue to listen to veterans, their families, veterans service organizations and our VA employees to improve access to the care and benefits veterans earned an deserve,” said the memo, which was also signed by Carolyn Clancy, VA undersecretary for health.

In July, Congress approved spending an additional $16 billion to help shore up the system.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson stressed that veterans are still waiting too long for care, an issue the agency is working to fix.

“They looked to see if there was any causal relationship associated with the delay in care and the death of these veterans, and they were unable to find one. But from my perspective, that don’t make it OK,” Mr. Gibson said. “Veterans were waiting too long for care and there were things being done, there were scheduling improprieties happening at Phoenix and frankly at other locations as well. Those are unacceptable.”

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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