PORTLAND, Ore. -

VA Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson visited the Portland VA Medical Center on Friday and announced additional steps being taken to improve veterans' access to care.

"No veteran should have to wait for the care and services that they have earned and deserve," Gibson said. "The audit and the data we just released this week showed the extent of the problems we face here in Portland and across the country.

"We are fully committed to fixing these problems and must restore the public's trust in VA. More importantly, we must restore the trust of our veterans who depend on us for care."

In addition to the systemwide actions taken (http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2552) in response to the audit findings, Gibson outlined actions taken to accelerate access to care for veterans seeking care at the Portland VAMC:

* Reaching out to all veterans waiting for care to get them off of wait lists and into clinics for medical appointments - as of July 23, Portland VAMC has reached 2,239 veterans.
* In June 2014, the Portland VAMC realigned space and bought additional equipment for Vancouver, Hillsboro, and Portland to open additional eye lanes and increase and eye procedure capacity in order to address demand for eye care. Once installed in early FY 2015, this will increase total capacity by approximately 500 slots a month.
* The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is ensuring that $7.9 million from within VA's budget specifically be made available to the Portland VAMC to accelerate access to care. As the result of these funds, and realignment of internal resources, Portland VAMC has targeted over 6,000 Veterans for referral to community providers for needed care..
* The Portland VAMC has expanded primary care and specialty care hours by adding evening and weekend clinic appointments to see patients and adding Saturday schedules to manage the 300-Veteran caseload in Vancouver.
* Portland VAMC has added two new full­time permanent providers with eleven additional providers expected onboard by October 1, 2014. At this time, Portland has received commitments from fifteen additional Primary Care Providers.
* The Salem Community Based Outpatient Clinic opened on June 25, 2014, expanding audiology, optometry, imaging, and physical therapy access. Additionally, over the next several months the clinic will expand access for specialties such as dermatology, plastics, and general surgery.
* Portland VAMC opened their 12th site of care in Lincoln City, Oregon on June 29, 2014, a one day a week Primary Care clinic in partnership with Lincoln County.
* At the direction of VA Deputy Secretary Gibson, Portland VAMC is increasing the use of established national contracts with community partners to schedule veterans waiting to be seen by a provider.

On June 9, VA announced the following actions in response to the nationwide Access Audit findings and data:

* Establishing New Patient Satisfaction Measurement Program
Gibson has directed VHA to immediately begin developing a new patient satisfaction measurement program to provide real-time, robust, location-by-location information on patient satisfaction, to include satisfaction data of those Veterans attempting to access VA health care for the first time. This program will be developed with input from Veterans Service Organizations, outside health care organizations, and other entities. This will ensure VA collects an additional set of data - directly from the Veteran's perspective - to understand how VA is doing throughout the system.
* Holding Senior Leaders Accountable
Where audited sites identify concerns within the parent facility or its affiliated clinics, VA will trigger administrative procedures to ascertain the appropriate follow-on personnel actions for specific individuals.
* Ordering an Immediate VHA Central Office and VISN Office Hiring Freeze
Gibson has ordered an immediate hiring freeze at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) central office in Washington D.C. and the 21 VHA Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) regional offices, except for critical positions to be approved by the Secretary on a case-by-case basis. This action will begin to remove bureaucratic obstacles and establish responsive, forward leaning leadership.
* Removing 14-Day Scheduling Goal
VA is eliminating the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance plans. This action will eliminate incentives to engage in inappropriate scheduling practices or behaviors.
* Increasing Transparency by Posting Data Twice-Monthly
At the direction of the VA Deputy Secretary, VHA will post regular updates to the access data released today at the middle and end of each month at VA.gov. Twice-monthly data updates will enhance transparency and provide the most immediate information to Veterans and the public on Veterans access to quality health care.
* Initiating an Independent, External Audit of Scheduling Practices
Gibson has also directed that an independent, external audit of system-wide VHA scheduling practices be performed.
* Utilizing High Performing Facilities to Help Those That Need Improvement
VA will formalize a process in which high performing facilities provide direct assistance and share best practices with facilities that require improvement on particular medical center quality and efficiency, also known as SAIL, performance measures.
* Suspending Performance Awards
VA has suspended all VHA senior executive performance awards for FY2014.

Gibson's visit to the Portland VA Medical Center is part of his continuing site visits to VA facilities across the country, where he is hearing directly from veterans and employees about obstacles to providing timely, quality care, and how VA can immediately address them.