- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Veterans Administration has begun proceedings to fire a second official at its troubled medical centers in central Alabama.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson announced Friday that termination proceedings had begun against Dr. Cliff Robinson, who was put on paid administrative leave in August from his position as chief of staff at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.

Gibson announced Monday that termination proceedings had begun against James Talton, who was also placed on leave in August from his position as director of the Central Alabama VA.

Gibson, a former executive with AmSouth Bank in Birmingham, toured the Central Alabama VA on Friday, talking with employees, veterans and Republican Rep. Martha Roby of Montgomery, who serves on the appropriations subcommittee for veterans’ issues and has been vocal about conditions in the Central Alabama VA.

After meeting with Roby, Gibson told reporters, “Veterans here in central Alabama are not receiving the care that they deserve, period. I am here for one reason and only reason, and that’s to make sure that we get it fixed.”

Roby said she was pleased Gibson got a first-hand look at the Central Alabama VA and that leadership changes have begun. “This week’s action to move forward with termination is a necessary and important step toward instilling accountability at the VA and building trust within the community,” she said in a statement.

The Central Alabama VA has been plagued by hundreds of X-rays going unread, patients experiencing long delays in getting appointments, patient records being manipulated and an employee taking a patient to buy illegal drugs.

Gibson said an assessment team visited the Central Alabama VA in September and issued a report with sobering findings. He said it found chronic instability and turnover in leadership, significant understaffing, lack of trust among employees, failed labor-management relations, and an environment of secrecy and deception.

Despite those problems, he said, “This is not Phoenix,” referring to a troubled VA hospital in Arizona.

He indicated more changes in leadership may be ahead as the VA seeks to build trust in the Central Alabama VA. He said the VA is adding staff and cutting patient wait times. It added 31 employees this month and is in the process adding 135 more, which will represent about a 10 percent increase in staff. But that won’t fill all the vacant staff positions, he said.

Gibson said he will be back in Montgomery before Thanksgiving to assess how the Central Alabama VA is doing.

The Central Alabama VA serves about 42,000 veterans with medical centers in Montgomery and Tuskegee and outpatient clinics in Dothan, Fort Rucker and Monroeville in Alabama and in Columbus, Georgia.

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