Tucson VA Probe: On the road to recovery after "sitting in the middle of hell"

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Could the Tucson VA finally be on the road to recovery after years of deceptive practices?

The stories have been heartbreaking. For years, staff described unethical practices that left many veterans in pain -- pleading for better care at the Tucson VA. Our investigation led to a few federal probes that not only substantiated their claims, it also led to a new director taking over the troubled center.

Ed Wagner waged war against the Tucson VA fighting hard to improve chronic problems. 
He formed the Federation of  Southern Arizona Veterans to be an advocate for vets and VA staff.  

Walking through the Tucson VA feels much different to Veteran Ed Wagner. "It was a fight and we were sitting in the middle of hell. And today I feel that tension has lifted," said Wagner.

He gives credit to William Caron, the director who took over the embattled facility seven months ago. Wagner and other vets sounded the alarm -- relentlessly -- describing years of deceptive scheduling practices and severe staff shortages that had been shrouded in secrecy. He now describes a different experience.

"Let's say you get an appointment for something and it might be over 30 days. They don't wait for you to be knowledgable. The people from the Choice Program will call you and say were you aware that you had this option. So those wait times are being taken care of on two levels," said Wagner.

Only weeks into his new job Caron told us he would tackle the culture of deception and fear that existed for years -- by first -- listening to staff and veterans. Today -- "we constantly need to be looking at areas to improve. So I'm very proud of the staff coming forward with those concerns. We raise them on a daily basis. Where are our soft spots. Where are our vulnerabilities -- and then you develop action planning around that. And that's what we've been doing," said Caron.

"Sure there's a lot of work to be done but what more can we ask for than somebody saying okay -- I see it. I'm going to see what I can do and actually takes action," said Wagner.

Doctors, nurses and support staff came forward to KGUN9 complaining they were overworked and overloaded  -- and their cries for more help led to roadblocks or retaliation. 

Cavazos: Where does it stand today? 
Caron: "So for me -- follow up and follow through. It sounds mundane and basic but there is not an email that ever goes unanswered."

Caron says he tackles problems at the core level. Wagner, who has advocated for staff, can see a considerable change in the culture. "And it feels like that reputation of how administration was going to treat them has been turned around," said Wagner.

Wagner says the number of phones calls of vets complaining have dropped off significantly -- as is the case with KGUN9. 

Caron says he's still dealing with some staffing issues that could impact scheduling in primary care so he's focused on recruitment.

We're still investigating those responsible for the deceptive practices -and we'll keep you  updated. 
 

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