Newly named Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, in an apparent bid to rebuild public trust, took the unusual step Monday of handing out his personal cell number to every reporter attending a press conference.
It’s part of McDonald’s PR push to change how people view the scandal-scarred VA.
McDonald, who was confirmed by the Senate in late July, also announced a new set of priorities Monday following a summer of instability which saw the resignations of two senior executives, including McDonald’s predecessor Eric Shinseki.
McDonald promised to change the culture at the department, which he described currently as a pyramid – with the secretary on top and the veterans on the bottom. He said the new strategy for operating the department would be to put vets at the top, followed by caregivers closest to veterans and the secretary at the bottom.
Since taking office, McDonald has been traveling to VA hospitals across the country, speaking with vets and VA employees.
McDonald said the biggest problem facing the VA now is finding qualified doctors, nurses and clinicians to fill available positions across the country.
The VA came under fire in April when a doctor at the Phoenix VA Health Care System said employees there had cooked the books for official wait lists for veterans, making it seem that those who needed medical attention were not stuck on waiting lists for months on end. He also alleged that as many as 40 patients died while waiting for appointments.
Since the Phoenix investigation, reviews including those done by the VA’s office of the inspector general have concluded that the problem of long wait times was common in several VA facilities across many states.
Fox News' Doug McKelway contributed to this report.