New Salisbury VA director committed to helping improve veterans' healthcare

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Joseph Vaughn had a busy week last week. He started his job as director of the Salisbury VA Medical Center, met with hundreds of new employees, continued the process of moving to a new city, and took time to register as a new patient at the Salisbury VAMC.

Vaughn, a Navy veteran, said he plans to receive all of his medical care at the Salisbury VAMC and he expects to be treated no different than any other veteran seen by the expansive regional healthcare network. He hopes that means he and his fellow veterans will each receive outstanding care.

"My number one goal is to take care of my brothers and sisters that served just like I did and to make sure we give them the best possible care they can get," Vaughn said in an interview Thursday.

He took time from his busy first-week schedule to talk with WBTV about his plans as director.

Vaughn comes to Salisbury after serving with the VA for more than 12 years in Mississippi, most recently as the associate director of the Jackson, Miss. VAMC.

He said some of his main priorities will be to ensure patients have access to care as quickly as possible, especially primary and mental health care.

"Always driving that access number as low as we can get," he said. "As quick as we can get veterans in, we want them to get in. And I want them to get in. I want to improve that access."

He also highlighted working to prevent veteran's suicide and helping smooth wrinkles with the VA Choice program as other top priorities.

Vaughn takes over the top job nearly a year after Kaye Greene announced abruptly she was leaving to take a private-sector job in New Mexico.

Greene's tenure was marred by multiple scandals, including reports from the Office of Inspector General that found some employees had manipulated wait time numbers to make it appear as though veterans were waiting shorter times for appointments than they actually were.

Other reports found problems with cleanliness and administration of certain medical services.

Vaughn said he is aware of those issues and wants to focus on addressing those situations so he can move on.

"I've actually read through all of the IG reports prior to arrival here," he said. "One of the first things I did when I got here was got briefed on where we're at, what the IG found, have we addressed the problems, if there's still things we need to take care of, where are we at on the status of that?"

Even though Vaughn said he plans to help increase access to private medical providers through the VA Choice program - a key priority for VA Secretary David Shulkin - he said he hopes veterans will be happy enough with their care from providers at the VA that they will want to return to the government for their services.

"If we make a situation where a veteran chooses to go somewhere else, eventually we don't become relevant anymore," Vaughn said.

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