Editorial: New VA director should follow path interim set

February 18, 2019

The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center is set to have new leadership next month, giving veterans their fifth director in five years.

Veterans have been betrayed by the VA’s past leadership. Last year, the hospital pushed Director Doug Paxton and Chief of Surgery Dinesh Ranjan out for creating a toxic workplace culture organized by reactionary and retaliatory tactics.

The result of that toxicity: the hospital became one of the worst in the nation, skilled professionals avoided the area, and those who stayed were punished for wanting more for our veterans. A painfully ironic tale for a county that bookends its freeways with signs claiming to serve veterans.

But in an effort to resurrect the VA, the hospital called on David Whitmer to fix the problem, before again handing off the reins to a — hopefully — permanent solution.

Whitmer came crashing in, quickly elevating the hospital from a one-star facility to a two-star facility and working to ease the tension between the VA and community leaders.

The improvement is great, but it’s still a long way from the four- or five-star rating our veterans deserve. So when the news broke in October, we applauded Whitmer, but asked a simple question: What’s next?

The VA has been plagued with poor leadership for years — Paxton replaced Carol Bogedain after she announced her retirement amid waves of criticism. In a month, the VA will have a new director, Keith Allen, the interim director at the Walla Walla Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who comes highly recommended.

Allen, a military veteran who served in the U.S. Army infantry, is said to have “sound leadership qualities and proven experience.” And like Whitmer, Allen was able to boost his VA from one star to two.

But the VA needs the kind of director who will avoid all the tired, old excuses of directors past. Highly-skilled medical professionals want to work at the VA — some even dream about it — so long as they’re not driven off by poor management. And if they’re allowed to work, wait lists shrink, patient and staff morale improves, and veterans will benefit from safe and advanced treatment.

Whitmer pointed the VA in the right direction with his even-keeled leadership, a transparent plan, and his willingness and ability to communicate with the community.

If Allen wants to be successful, he’ll need to follow that path.