News Releases

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Isakson to VA Secretary: Fill Vacant VA Leadership Positions Now

Inexcusable excess of open positions nationwide hindering veterans' access to health care

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today called on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald to immediately fill the 44 vacant leadership positions nationwide within the Veterans Health Administration, which is responsible for delivering health care to our veterans.

Among the VA facilities across the country that are operating without a permanent leader are the Phoenix, Ariz., VA facility that was the epicenter of a national scandal over lengthy wait times for veterans seeking health care, as well as one of the nation’s busiest VA medical center in Tampa, Fla.

“Our nation’s veterans have earned and deserve the best health care we can deliver,” Isakson wrote.  “Part of providing that high quality care is ensuring there are officials appointed to key leadership positions that are capable and able to oversee and manage the organization.”

The letter calls on the VA to not only fill the 44 vacant positions, but to also develop a comprehensive succession plan for key leadership positions within the VA – a standard operating procedure for any major company.

As of today, nine of the nation’s 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks, known as VISNs, and 35 of the nation’s 152 VA medical centers are operating without a permanent leader. The vacancies include two key positions -- both the VISN director and medical center – in Phoenix, Ariz., where a scandal over lengthy wait times for veterans erupted during the spring of 2014, and it also includes the director’s job at the Tampa, Fla., VA Medical Center – one of the busiest in the country serving 89,076 patients annually according to 2013 data provided by the VA.

Additionally, the Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Operations and Management, which directly supervises the directors of the VISNs and the medical centers nationwide, has been vacant for approximately two years.

In the letter, Isakson notes that so many vacant positions at the Veterans Health Administration could hinder veterans’ access to health care and that the “lethargy and inaction by VA to fill these key leadership positions is inexcusable.”

The letter follows Isakson’s recent oversight visit to the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., his second visit as chairman. This week, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed two sweeping accountability measures to give the VA Secretary greater firing authority and crack down on employee bonuses for delinquent individuals.

Click here for a PDF list of the VISN and VAMC director vacancies.

Full text of Isakson’s letter to Sec. McDonald appears below. A PDF of the signed letter is available here.

July 23, 2015

The Honorable Robert McDonald
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
801 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary McDonald:

            I am very concerned regarding the tremendous number of Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) and VA Medical Center (VAMC) Director positions within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) that are without permanent leadership onboard.  I am alarmed that VHA does not appear to be acting with any sense of urgency in appointing permanent leadership into these positions.

Currently, about half of the VISN Directors (9) and approximately one-quarter of VAMC Directors (35) are without a permanent Director onboard leading their organizations.  Some of these positions have been filled by “Acting or Interim” officials for more than one year.  It is exceptionally troublesome that the VISN 18 Network Director and the Phoenix VAMC Director positions, the epicenter of last year’s access scandal, have been without permanently appointed directors for more than one year.  Additionally, the Tampa VAMC, one of the busiest VAMC in the country, has also been without a permanent Director onboard for approximately a year.

            This problem is not exclusive to the VISN and VAMC levels of VHA. The position within VA Central Office (VACO) that directly supervises the VISN Network Directors and VAMC Directors, the Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Operations and Management (DUSHOM), has been with permanent leadership for approximately two years.  The lethargy and inaction by VA to fill these key positions is inexcusable and materially contributes the ongoing VA budget difficulties and clinical care failures.

            I would like VA to provide me within 30 days a comprehensive plan for filling these key leadership positions.  This plan should include any barriers VA faces in recruiting VISN Network and VAMC Directors and a timeframe for when the nine VISN Network Directors and 35 VAMC Director positions currently without permanently assigned leadership aboard will be filled.  In addition, I would like VA to provide me the details of their succession plan for key leadership positions within VA, to include VISN Network Directors and VAMC Directors. 

            Our nation’s veterans have earned and deserve the best health care we can deliver.  Part of providing that high quality care is ensuring there are officials appointed to key leadership positions that are capable and able to oversee and manage the organization.  I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Johnny Isakson
Chairman

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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.

Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.