PHOENIX -- An interim director will take over the embattled Phoenix VA Health Care System on Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced. Steve Young will oversee delivery of health care to an estimated 85,000 veterans and an operating budget of about $500 million. The move comes as the Phoenix VA tries to restore its reputation while it is under investigation for possible patient deaths. In recent weeks, critics of the VA system have alleged that administrators in Phoenix kept an off-the-books list to conceal long wait times as 40 veterans died waiting to get an appointment.
Director Sharon Helman and two other employees were placed on administrative leave May 1. Young has been the director of the Salt Lake City VA Health Care System since June 2009. He also served as the interim medical director at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago from February 2011 to June 2011. Before taking that position, Young was the deputy network director for the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network in Florida. The claims are the latest to emerge as VA hospitals around the country struggle to handle the huge volume of patients who need medical attention, including aging vets and a newer influx from wars over the last decade. In the past year, VA facilities in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Washington state have been linked to delays in patient care or poor oversight. Government investigators reported this month that employees at a veterans medical clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado, were instructed to falsify records to make it appear as though patients were getting appointments close to the day requested. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is scheduled to testify next week before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on care across the VA. Shinseki announced this week he has ordered an audit of access to care at all VA medical centers. Meanwhile, many have called for his resignation. U.S. Sen. John McCain, who held a forum Friday with veterans, stopped short of demanding Shinseki step down. "I would like to see Secretary Shinseki in his capacity appearing before Congress and the American people saying what went on," said McCain, a veteran who served in Vietnam.