Local Viewpoints
3:40 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

Udall, Heinrich: New Leadership Needed At New Mexico VA Medical Center

Credit Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)

  WASHINGTON – Today, as the acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary visits New Mexico, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich urged the VA to move quickly to hire a qualified permanent director for New Mexico's VA hospital to help it immediately begin the work to regain the trust of veterans and address serious problems with scheduling, emergency response, care for rural veterans and other challenges. Numerous vacancies at the VA, including the New Mexico VA Medical Center (VAMC) director, have made it extremely difficult to make the critically important changes to better serve veterans.  

New Mexico's former VAMC Director George Marnell announced his retirement over six months ago. At that time, the senators were assured that New Mexico would have hired a new director by May. "We fear this continued delay in new leadership is adding to the already serious concerns among veterans about the VA system in New Mexico," the senators wrote in a letter to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson.

The senators noted in their letter that even before issues with scheduling came to light, New Mexico veterans faced challenges because of a shortage of doctors and nurses and the vast distances veterans have to travel to doctors' appointments, among other issues unique to large, rural states. The senators urged that the VA must prioritize hiring a director who is willing to lead extensive outreach efforts throughout the state, and who will address the issues of New Mexico’s diverse veterans population.

"As you know, New Mexico's VAMC is one of several cited by the OIG's interim report as having management and scheduling issues," the senators wrote. "As these investigations are conducted and the appropriate solutions are put in place, NMVAMC will need a strong, permanent director to work to regain the trust of the veterans the VA serves in New Mexico. In order to resolve the crisis in New Mexico's VA health care system and begin to restore trust in the system, this new director must also lead effective and proactive outreach efforts within our communities."

A copy of the letter is available HERE and below:

The Honorable Sloan D. Gibson

Acting Secretary

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Ave. N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson.

Thank you for planning a visit to the New Mexico Veterans Affairs Medical Center (NMVAMC) onThursday, July 17, 2014. We are writing to call your attention to an issue that you may learn more about when you visit our state: the need to immediately hire a qualified permanent director for NMVAMC. We know the VA nationwide is facing a time of great challenges and that you are working hard to overcome them. However, it has been more than six months since the announcement of the former New Mexico Director George Marnell's retirement. In January, we were assured by Dr. Robert Petzel — then VA Undersecretary for Health — that the Department of Veterans Affairs was planning to fill the position by May of this year. We fear this continued delay in new leadership is adding to the already serious concerns among veterans about the VA system in New Mexico.

There are several challenges unique to rural and medically underserved states like New Mexico that require the attention of a permanent director at NMVAMC. Veterans in our state face transportation challenges as well as a shortage of doctors and other medical professionals to serve their needs. We also have a diverse group of veterans, including Native American, Hispanic, female and growing elderly veterans populations in New Mexico. NMVAMC needs a permanent director with extensive health care management experience, a deep understanding of rural communities, and an ability to communicate effectively to a diverse population. Therefore, it is imperative that the next director work with our veterans and be open and responsive to directly addressing their needs and the needs of their families.

We continue to support the VA and Office of Inspector General investigations relating to adequate and timely access to care at VA hospitals and clinics across the country. As you know, New Mexico's VAMC is one of several cited by the OIG's interim report as having management and scheduling issues. As these investigations are conducted and the appropriate solutions are put in place, NMVAMC will need a strong, permanent director to work to regain the trust of the veterans the VA serves in New Mexico. In order to resolve the crisis in New Mexico's VA health care system and begin to restore trust in the system, this new director must also lead effective and proactive outreach efforts within our communities.

Thank you for your attention to this matter of great importance to New Mexico veterans and their families.

Sincerely,

Tom Udall, U.S. Senator

Martin Heinrich, U.S. Senator