12 OYS: Augusta VA still under magnifying glass following 3 deaths

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / May 16, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Four months have passed since a Congressional probe was held in the deaths of 3 veterans at Augusta's Charlie Norwood VA Hospital. While Barrow said medical care has improved, some concerns still exist. "We were assured that there were no backlog issues back in January, and I've been reassured again today that there are no backlog issues today," said Barrow.

During News 12's investigation last year, we uncovered a waiting list for GI screenings that numbered more than 4,000. "The bureaucracy used to provide medical care here is vast. It is sclerotic. It is clogged with procedural and civil service safeguards that make it impossible to hold people accountable. That needs to change," said Barrow.

During Friday's follow-up visit, Barrow was planning to meet with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. He was listed as the keynote speaker at a luncheon for Augusta's Warrior Project, but he was a no show. He left his speech for Augusta VA Director Robert Hamilton.

"It is a pleasure and honor to be with you today to represent Deputy Secretary Mr. Sloan Gibson," said Hamilton speaking to the audience.
Congressman Barrow was not pleased to learn that Gibson was not in attendance.

"I'm disappointed the Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson who agreed to meet with us here today was unable to attend and unwilling to attend," said Barrow. News 12 tried to talk with Hamilton, but he avoided our cameras by slipping out a service entrance. We caught him leaving in a black pickup. Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., VA Undersecretary Robert Petzel announced his resignation amid all the problems. We have learned he already planned to retire this year anyway.

Representative Jeff Miller, Chairman of the house Committee on Veterans' Affairs released a statement regarding Petzel's resignation: “Today’s announcement from VA regarding Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel’s ‘resignation’ is the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak. Petzel was already scheduled to retire in 2014 and President Obama has already announced his intention to nominate Petzel’s replacement, so characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test. Desperate to get ahead of a delays in care crisis that is growing by the day, yet apparently unwilling to take substantive actions to hold any of its leaders accountable for negligence that harms veterans, VA has resorted to what it does best: splitting semantic hairs to create the illusion of accountability and progress. After yesterday’s out-of-touch performance from Sec. Shinseki, I was disappointed. Today, I am even more disillusioned.”

Meanwhile Barrow is hoping improvements continue to be made at Augusta's VA Hospital "If the progress that has been made here is real, and only the records that we are still in the process of running down can confirm that, then that is something we can take some confidence in and we can use as a building block for fixing these problems elsewhere," said Barrow.

News 12 contacted the Veterans Administration to get an explanation as to why Petzel's announcement is being called a "resignation" instead of a "retirement." We are waiting to hear back.