Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has been forced to resign. This bizarre solution to the VA scandal fires the Senate-confirmed cabinet chief so that the career staffers responsible for the mess can run the organization for the year or so it would take to find, confirm, and educate a new secretary, just before a new president would choose someone else. The Washington bureaucrats always seem one step ahead of the politicians.
President Barack Obama was reportedly “madder than hell” about the VA scandal. Before Shinseki’s auto-da-fé, ultra-liberal Washington Post columnists Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson actually criticized the formerly sacrosanct president for not taking charge. Even the Democratic Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held investigative hearings finding that 40 patients at a Phoenix VA hospital reportedly died while waiting to be treated. Its VA leaders reported that patients only had to wait 26 days for an initial appointment, when the Inspector General later found the wait to be 115 days. An April memo by a deputy undersecretary disclosed “gaming strategies” to hide the delays that the IG confirmed were “a systematic problem nationwide.”
Congressmen from both parties expressed shock and demanded Shinseki’s head, ignoring the numerous Government Accountability Office and IG reports going back decades that warned against such shenanigans, currently gathering dust in Congressional back offices. In fact, irregularities and poor service have been reported since the VA’s inception. Shortages in primary and other medical care are offered as excuses for failure, but such shortages are not due to a lack of funds. The VA is popular with voters, and its military “service” organizations are such powerful lobbyists that its budget increased from $27 billion in 2003 to $57 billion in 2013, a 106 percent increase. Even with such funding, the IG found that 84 percent of veterans had to wait two weeks or longer to be treated.
Congress demanded reforms for many years, but nothing much changed. After many requests, the VA announced in 2000 that it would finally overhaul its decrepit, quarter-century-old scheduling process. After $127 million and nine years, the VA gave up the project without adopting any improvements. Implementing a medical records system that would integrate military and veteran systems was abandoned after almost $1 billion in spending. The bureaucracy cites a RAND study claiming that the VA is actually superior to private medicine, but that study was based on VA records the GAO and IG findings now undermine. Clearly, no one in the private sector has such long wait times (although the government’s Medicaid comes close).
The real test is that only 16 percent of veterans identify the free services of VA as their primary source of medical care, and only one-third more even use it in emergencies. They know what they are doing. The best estimate finds that veteran suits against the VA yielded $845 million in malpractice payments over the past decade. The New England Journal of Medicine found that private practice pays about 20 percent of malpractice suits brought against them, compared to 25 percent for VA–a rate one-quarter higher. The decorated and wounded Army General Shinseki did not know what he was up against: “I can’t explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities,” he said. “This is something I rarely encountered during my 38 years in uniform. I cannot defend it because it is indefensible.” House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller had warned “his people were not telling him the truth” even as Shinseki visited more facilities than any previous secretary, an absolutely corrupt bureaucracy lying right to his face.
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