Acting Veterans Affairs secretary visits Baltimore

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Local,Maryland

BALTIMORE (AP) — Acting U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson met Tuesday with administrators in Baltimore to strategize on improving lengthy delays for veterans in need of medical help in Maryland, where a recent audit showed the average wait time is 81 days for new patients seeking a primary-care doctor.

During his visit to the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, Gibson said a budget allotment of $500,000 will help ensure timely medical care for veterans in Maryland. It's supposed to help connect veterans awaiting care with outside physicians able to offer prompt treatment. The Maryland VA system is also in the process of hiring five new primary care physicians.

Gibson said Tuesday the wait time for care in Baltimore is "too long," adding that more than 800 veterans with wait times longer than 30 days have been identified in the past three weeks. The majority of them have been contacted and offered appointments with physicians outside the system, Gibson said.

"My priority is getting veterans off the waitlist and into clinics," Gibson said.

Gibson stepped in as acting VA secretary 18 days ago after former Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid a scandal involving months-long wait times for veterans and fraudulent scheduling practices designed to conceal the delays.

Gibson vowed Tuesday to try and rebuild trust in the VA system.

"I think it's pretty obvious that we've seen a major erosion of that trust," Gibson said. "My commitment to you, my commitment to all of our veterans, my commitment to the American people is, we will work to earn it back."

Gibson also addressed reports of VA staff members being intimidated or facing retaliation for speaking out against misconduct.

"It's against the law to retaliate against whistleblowers," he said. "We're going to obey the law. Period."

Gibson said he has directed every VA center to visit each clinic and "personally engage" with those responsible for scheduling to ensure the appointment logs are accurate.

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