DURHAM: New VA secretary recruits doctors, nurses at Duke - WSMV Channel 4

New VA secretary recruits doctors, nurses at Duke

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, in a discussion Friday morning at Duke, addressed the problems in the VA that have raised concerns among many American veterans and used his time to urge medical professionals to help the VA improve its quality of care.

McDonald said the “veteran population is shifting to Durham, Charlotte and Phoenix – that's where we are stretched the thinnest.”

McDonald said the VA needs thousands more doctors, nurses and clinician assistants to keep up with the demand caused by more and more vets in the system. Friday's visit to Durham was the first of a number of recruiting visits McDonald is making to get new doctors into the system.

The quality of care at the VA hospitals has been a concern since an audit revealed brutal wait times across the country. The audit, released in June, said the average wait time for new patients across North Carolina ranged from 29 days in Salisbury to 83 days in Fayetteville – the home of Fort Bragg.

The Durham VA ranked among the worst in the system for mental health care wait times, with patients waiting an average of 104 days. In May, two Durham VA employees were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into "inappropriate scheduling practices."

McDonald spoke at Duke's Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Center for Health Education. Using a wireless microphone, McDonald worked a room full of medical professionals, answering questions and explaining what the VA needs to improve services.

McDonald told the crowd the agency especially needs mental health professionals. He said the VA has slots open but lacks the personnel to fill those positions.

Brian Andonian, who is about to start medical training, said, "I've never worked at a VA before and was curious to learn what the mission and goals are and where they are headed. I look forward to training there."

And Cyndy Simonson, a nurse practitioner, said she was "very impressed" by what McDonald had to say.

"He's a really good thinker and I like his openness and desire to be innovative with reorganizing and streamlining the VA," Simonson said.

McDonald was confirmed to the position in July. President Barack Obama nominated him June 30 and he was quickly confirmed by a unanimous vote by the Senate.

McDonald replaced acting secretary Sloan Gibson, who had been in charge since Eric Shinseki resigned in May.

McDonald spoke at the Phoenix VA Health Care System Aug. 8.

McDonald attended West Point and served in the Army before getting his MBA at the University of Utah. He then spent his career at Procter and Gamble and rose to lead that consumer products giant in the Great Recession.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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