President Obama speaks at the Phoenix VA Medical Center on Friday.

President Obama speaks at the Phoenix VA Medical Center on Friday. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Obama Says 'a Few Bad Apples' Not Emblematic of VA Workforce

President still supports creation of new, third-party advisory board.

The Veterans Affairs Department will soon receive advice and performance monitoring from private-sector and other experts, the agency has announced.

The MyVA Advisory Committee will “engage in periodic reviews” to ensure the department follows through on the major reforms put forward by Secretary Bob McDonald last year, VA said. MyVA aims to reorient the disparate agency into five central regions and to make its services more customer friendly. The advisory committee is composed of medical and veterans-issues experts from the private, non-profit and government sectors and is tasked with certifying the VA is on track with its goals and promises.

VA announced the advisory committee as President Obama visited the agency’s medical facility in Phoenix, Ariz. -- ground zero of the patient waitlist manipulation scandal. Obama touted the new committee and McDonald, saying they were part of a “new team” that would improve scheduling issues and access to care. The president acknowledged there have been “a few bad apples” at VA and “mistakes have been made,” but said that should not “detract from the outstanding work from a lot of people inside this organization.”

Obama noted while progress has been made, “what we know is there is still more work to do.”

The advisory committee includes 14 individuals, ranging from Teresa Carlson, who runs Amazon Web Services’ Worldwide Public Sector, to former Surgeon General and Senate candidate Richard Carmona to Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, CEO and president of the Cleveland Clinic. They will offer VA advice on how to carry out both short and long-term plans, recommend the funding necessary to deliver on those plans and suggest any new reforms necessary to improve services and operations at the agency.

“The success of MyVA will be veterans who are better served by VA, so the work of this committee is incredibly important,” McDonald said. “The collective wisdom of our committee members is invaluable and each of them understands that VA must improve customer service and focus the department on the needs of our veterans.”

He also offered his thanks for their assistance in carrying out what could prove to be the signature action of his tenure: “They are dedicated to that mission and I am grateful for their principled service to our veterans.”

At least one VA oversight leader was not impressed with the committee, calling its creation redundant.

“I’m concerned the administration’s decision to convene an advisory committee composed of outside experts to help improve VA services is a duplicative step that misses the mark,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Committee and a frequent thorn in the side of the Obama administration’s management of the agency.

Miller cited two “top-to-bottom reviews” of VA’s health care system required by the agency overhaul he co-authored and Obama signed into law last year as the vehicles through which management will benchmark and track its reform efforts. The solution for “fixing” VA in the short term “could not be more clear,” Miller added.  

“The lack of accountability for those who caused the VA scandal is the single most important factor inhibiting VA’s transformation,” he said. The committee chairman will convene a hearing Monday evening to address transparency issues with VA and its inspector general’s office. Miller said proper VA oversight requires “unfettered access to the information [the committee] requests,” which the IG is not currently providing.