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“Leadership failures” to blame for prosthetics scandal and other problems at Aurora VA, undersecretary says

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora is making progress on improving safety for both patients and employees, though more work is still needed, U.S. Rep. Jason Crow said Monday.

Crow, a Democrat representing Aurora and some nearby communities, and VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal met with employees of the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System to talk about staff concerns Monday.

The VA’s Eastern Colorado system has struggled in recent months, first as the system’s two top leaders were reassigned in October while the Office of the Inspector General completes an investigation into oversight and culture in the system.

In November, The Denver Post reported a whistleblower’s allegations that the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center’s prosthetics department had deleted veterans’ requests for wheelchairs, artificial limbs and other items, to hide a large backlog in processing those requests.

The director of the Aurora VA’s suicide prevention center was reassigned in December following reporting by The Post detailing allegations of abusive behavior toward employees.

Crow in mid-December sent a letter to Elnahal demanding an accounting of the problems in the prosthetics department and assurances the hospital was making sure veterans receive proper health care. Last week, Crow sent another letter, this time joined by the rest of Colorado’s representatives, to Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough urging him to address concerns within the VA about staffing shortages, safety risks and hospital leadership.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Elnahal said “leadership failures” were behind the hospital’s string of problems, though he said the inspector general’s investigation is still in progress. The hospital is seeking a new leader for the prosthetics department and brought in staff from other VA facilities to help clear the backlog, bringing the time to process a request down to about five days, he said.

Reports about safety concerns have increased in the last few months, but that’s a positive development, because staff feel like someone is listening, Elnahal said. The VA is looking into options to improve safety, including hiring more staff, he said.

“We haven’t waited to begin on what we know is a problem,” he said.

Crow said the VA has been more transparent with him since new interim leaders came in, and that staff told him in the town hall meeting that they were pleased with improved communication.

“There are issues that need to be resolved and are being resolved,” he said. “There has been no question that I’ve asked that has gone unanswered.”

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