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Updated Jun 2, 2014 - 8:07 am

Expert: Forget 'spin' and fix Phoenix VA problems immediately

PHOENIX -- Valley public opinion researcher Mike O'Neil said there are no two sides of the Phoenix VA scandal and it has to be corrected as soon as possible.

"You don't need PR people to fix it, the backlogs must be dealt with and they have to be audited in a way that we know it's real," O'Neil said.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki turned in his resignation to President Obama on Friday, shortly after firing the leadership at the Phoenix hospital.

At least 40 patients may have died awaiting appointments at the Phoenix medical center, where allegations of mismanagement, falsified records and cover-ups forced an investigation.

Similar issues have also been discovered at VA facilities across the country.

O'Neil said top brass profited with performance bonuses that were partially tied to wait times.

"The VA had a big backlog, so they created incentives for cutting the backlog. The problem when you do that is that you create an incentive to monkey with the system.

"The potential is there for trouble anytime you reward people by the numbers. What has to be done is examine how much protection to give whisteblowers. There was a whistleblower in this case (Dr. Sam Foote) but he was retired. Nobody currently working in the system stepped up."

O'Neil said Shinseki had no choice but to resign once it became apparent that the problems with medical centers were not limited to Phoenix.

About the Author

Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.


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