Cohen: Mobilizing the VA for better care in Memphis
The incidents at the Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center reported last week by the USA Today Network are disturbing and unacceptable.
When I read the story, I immediately called Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin to express my concerns and discuss solutions to the ongoing problems at the Memphis VA. Memphis-area veterans have made enormous sacrifices for our county and deserve nothing but the best care.
Last year, after the Memphis VA received one out of five stars in the VA’s quality-of-care rankings, I called Shulkin, then-Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and urged him to use whatever incentives are available to get the very best director for Memphis. At the time, the Memphis VA had gone through several interim directors and the previous permanent director was transferred due to issues at the hospital. Upon becoming Secretary of the VA, Dr. Shulkin appointed David Dunning as the director of the Memphis VA.
Consistent leadership at the Memphis VA had been lacking since Director Jay Robinson was hired to become CEO of Methodist South in 2012. I was proud to work with then-Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki to bring Director Robinson to Memphis, and I commend him for his work to reform the Memphis VA. Like Director Robinson, I believe Director Dunning has the credentials and passion for Memphis to transform the hospital.
Director Dunning began his service in Memphis several months after the most recent incidents reported in the USA Today investigation. Since taking the reins at the Memphis VA, Director Dunning has been reviewing the practices at the hospital and has begun to implement changes to improve the quality of care. He has removed several high-level personnel at the hospital, including the chiefs of surgery, anesthesiology, and research. He has also hired a new head of the human resources department at the hospital.
Director Dunning, an Iraq-war veteran and a 30-year career Army officer, was born in Memphis and has deep Memphis roots. In a recent interview with the USA TODAY NETWORK -- Tennessee, Director Dunning referred to Memphis as “forever home” and said he was fully committed to the city. While the appointment of David Dunning as the Director of the Memphis VA was an integral step to repairing the relationship between Memphis veterans and the hospital, it is clear that more improvements are still needed.
During my phone call with Secretary Shulkin, I invited him to come to Memphis to visit the VA. Secretary Shulkin assured me that the Memphis VA was one of the hospitals that he was keeping a personal eye on for improvements. I have also spoken to Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, numerous times about the issues at the Memphis VA, and he expressed interest in accompanying Secretary Shulkin on his visit.
I will continue working with the VA and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the Memphis VA receives all federal funding, staffing and other federal aid necessary to ensure Memphis-area veterans receive the care that they deserve.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen represents Tennessee's Ninth Congressional District.