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DALLAS -- For the first time since News 8 aired a series of investigative reports critical of patient care, on Friday officials at the Dallas VA Hospital opened their doors and lines of communication.

Top administrators say they are making major improvements and renovations and want the public to know things at VA North Texas Health Care are different.

Members of the local media were taken on a rare tour of the Dallas VA hospital. Officials want the public to know they have nothing to hide. In fact, there's something they want the public to see -- a $175 million renovation project that will bring state-of-the-art care to some of the most deserving patients in North Texas.

'So we want to do everything we can so our patients and our families feel good about coming here,' said Jeff Milligan, hospital director. 'This is something that they earned, because it's our mission and we want to provide them with something that they've earned.'

Among the changes underway are a new spinal cord injury unit, an ambulatory surgery center, and a new poly-trauma rehab clinic. They say a new triage component is drastically reducing wait times in the emergency room and that no veteran with urgent needs has to wait at all to see a specialist at all.

Random surveys of patients indicate to hospital administrators that veterans are pleased with the changes.

'We find these people, almost uniformly, are very satisfied with the care we provide and the attention we are proving to them,' said Clark Gregg, hospital chief of staff.

But just weeks ago, News 8 had no problem finding veterans and a former employee who say some patients are treated like second-class citizens.

'My complaint was not only for me, but for every veteran who walks through that door and is subjected to the kind of treatment that they are subjected to,' said Jim Johansen, who has filed several complaints about patient care at the hospital.

Director Jeff Milligan said he is aware of and troubled by continued complaints, and feels the hospital is working hard to respond.

'Any rude behavior or someone refusing to see the patients assigned to them, those people who were identified then are no longer employees here,' Milligan said.

He said the Dallas VA still needs to make strides, but that the improvements are starting to show and their reputation is on the mend.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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