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Troubled VA Wants $17.6 Billion, 10k New Staff to Solve Its Problems

Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson speaks, Thursday, June 5, 2014, in Phoenix. It was Acting Secretary Gibson's first visit to Phoenix since taking over the agency amid an investigation that found 1,700 veterans were kept off the official waiting list for care at the troubled Arizona hospital. (AP Photo/Matt York) AP Photo/Matt York

The Department of Veterans Affairs needs an additional $17.6 billion for Fiscal Year 2015 to solve the agency’s festering problems, Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Wednesday.

“I am convinced we are going to see some productivity enhancement but it also means we have some investments to make,” Gibson said, speaking at a hearing on the "State of VA Health Care."

The request which, represents about a 20 percent increase from the $78 billion Congress already allocated for the agency for FY2015, would go towards expanding the 341,000-strong workforce by 10,000 and funding a widespread expansion of VA facilities, in part to accommodate those new hires. The agency's funding level for FY2015 already represents a $7 billion bump from FY2014 funding, which was $71 billion.

The scope of the request seemed to startle several senators. For example, Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, wondered if the agency was even capability of hiring and implementing so many staff in enough time to make a difference.

“Did you say that based on your assessment of the capacity issue that you would need 10,000 additional staff when you were talking about the $17.6 billion you would be requesting?” asked Hirono, sounding surprised.

Gibson defended the proposal, suggesting the request was relatively modest.

“I know that sounds like a huge number but there are 300,000 in VHA alone,” replied Gibson. “[W]e probably hire 30,000 additional people a year anyway so I know 10,000 sounds like a huge number but its only 10 percent of the staff or maybe less than that.”

The VA was revealed earlier this year to be rife with corruption, deception, widespread fraud in the bonus sytem, and whistleblower intimidation. Tens of thousands of veterans were stuck on lists for months. Some lost their lives while waiting for care.

Gibson said reforms he is implementing would yield some greater efficiencies but that much of the extra costs were due to the fact that the typical VA patience is now “older, sicker, and poorer."

Sen. Mike Johanns, a Republican from Nebraska, was also critical of the request saying it sounded awfully similar to those made by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who was forced out of the job in May.

“This…  sounds so similar to what we heard over the years,” said Joannes. “‘I need more money. I need to be bigger, faster, grander. I need a bigger bureaucracy. I need to hire more people' and on, and on and on.”

“I think what you need personally is competition,” he continued. "If you can’t clean up your act, guess what. You lost out... I don’t think you need billions and billions of dollars." 

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