After vigorously defending the progress in cutting medial service wait times for veterans since taking over the troubled federal agency, acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said the troubled department needs $17.6 billion in additional funds and 10,000 additional staffers in order to truly address its systemic problems.
Appearing for several hours before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Gibson said the department needs a new influx of funding in order to increase the department's internal capacity to the point that will allow it truly eradicate long veteran wait times -- a scandal that led to the oust of his predecessor, Eric Shinseki.
Without increasing the number of doctors, staffers and beds in VA facilities, Gibson warned, "the wait times just get longer."
The long-embattled department was thrust into the headlines earlier this year when it was revealed that thousands of veterans had waited months to receive basic care at clinics around the country. In some cases, officials at the clinics filed false reports about the wait times in order to avoid losing raises.
Gibson said that 87 veterans medical facilities are now being investigated for potentially misreporting veteran wait times.
"As a consequence of all these failures, the trust that is the foundation of all we do, the trust of the veterans we serve and the trust of the American people and their elected representatives, has eroded," Gibson told the committee.
Of the $17 billion, more than $10 billion would go to providing private care for veterans while the agency continues to investigate misreporting of wait times and institute new safeguards. Eventually, Gibson said, less money would be needed to be spent on private care as the capacity of the VA hospitals increases.
Another $6 billion would go toward opening new VA clinics.
The remainder of the money would be used to hire an additional 10,000 clinical care staff members and another 1,5000 doctors to work in the currently existing VA facilities -- an increase spurred by the fact that, Gibson said, the single biggest problem faced by VA facilities is a lack of capacity.
During the hearing, Gibson faced tough questioning from Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who questioned whether the additional funding would truly address the wait time issue, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who questioned in Gibson had tackled the problems aggressively enough.
"I don’t think you need more billions and billions of dollars,” Johanns said.