Congressional delegation again opposes regional VA leader


JACKSON, Miss (AP) - Mississippi's congressional delegation says it's still opposing the appointment of an executive to oversee veterans' hospitals and clinics in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas.

The four congressmen and two senators said Friday that they met with Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald Tuesday. They oppose plans to name Skye McDougall to direct the South Central Veterans Health Care Network.

That Jackson-based organization oversees 10 veterans' hospitals and associated clinics.

"We are more convinced than ever that her appointment is a bad decision, and that the secretary and his team's handling of the issue has made a bad situation worse," the delegation said Friday in a joint statement. "Although this decision belongs to the Secretary, we are dismayed that he would disregard the unanimous advice of the elected representatives of the people."

In a Dec. 15 letter, the delegation objected to McDougall's appointment based on her 2015 testimony to a U.S. House committee. They say McDougall testified that wait times at VA facilities she oversaw in Southern California averaged four days, when they were at least 10 times longer.

U.S. Sen. John McCain objected last year to McDougall leading an Arizona-based network for the same reasons.

"It seems that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been 'hopscotching' Dr. McDougall around the country - from Southern California to New Mexico and from Arizona to Mississippi - searching for a soft landing for her," the Mississippi delegation wrote in December. "We are determined to see that her soft landing is not in Mississippi."

The delegation noted that veterans' health care in Mississippi has been troubled in recent years. The G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson has faced allegations of improper patient care over the past decade, including claims of understaffing, a radiologist who didn't properly read some X-rays, and dirty medical instruments. Officials there said last year they've hired more primary care physicians to improve the speed of care.

Besides Jackson, the network oversees hospitals in Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans, Pineville and Shreveport, Louisiana; Little Rock and Fayetteville, Arkansas; Oklahoma City and Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Houston.

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