- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Officials said services at the troubled central Alabama Veterans Affairs health care facilities are improving, with more staff and shorter waits for new patients to get appointments.

At a news conference Tuesday and then at a town hall meeting in Montgomery, the VA’s southeast director, Charles Sepich, said, “We are focusing on rebuilding trust.”

A VA report released in June said the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System had an average wait time for new patients of 75 days. That was the seventh-worst nationally. Last month, the VA placed the Central Alabama director and chief physician on paid administration leave.

Robin Jackson, who had been deputy network director for the Southeast, is now interim director for the Central Alabama facilities and Dr. Srinivas Ginjupalli is acting chief of staff. Jackson and Sepich said the Central Alabama VA had cut appointment wait times for new patients to an average of 48 days by Sept. 1. That resulted, in part, from expanding clinic hours in Montgomery, Tuskegee and Columbus, Georgia.

They said the VA added 20 employees to its 1,500-member staff this month, has 33 more joining in October, and plans more hiring in following months.

The Central Alabama VA has also made technological changes in its intensive care unit to allow it to admit veterans with more complex conditions.

Regional and national VA assessment teams are reviewing the Central Alabama facilities to recommend more changes.

Sepich said the agency is taking action against employees who were negligent or committed willful misconduct, but he cited privacy reasons for refusing to say how many were involved or what is being doing.

At the town hall meeting attended by an overflow crowd of more than 170 peoples, veterans aired a variety of complaints. One 86-year-old veteran said, “I’m a Korean War veteran and I’ve been forgotten.”

Jackson told the crowd, “We have a lot of improvement we need to do to regain your trust.”

The next step in that process comes Wednesday when Jackson and Sepich will meet with U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, a Montgomery Republican who had been critical of the previous leadership in the Central Alabama VA.

The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System serves nearly 42,000 veterans through major medical facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee and outpatient clinics in Monroeville, Fort Rucker and Dothan in Alabama and in Columbus, Georgia.

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