Veterans

Obama Expresses Bland, Passive Outrage at Growing Scandal About Veteran Care

Familiar, vague promises about holding bureaucrats "accountable"

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Last weekend, President Barack Obama's chief of staff went on Sunday shows to say that the president was "madder than hell" at reports that veterans were dying due to long waits for health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and that the agency was covering up these problems.

Today, the president himself came forward to express his outrage that the agency he promised to fix years ago when he was first brought into office doesn't seem to have been fixed at all. Here's a piece of his speech:

Here's what I discussed with Secretary [Eric] Shinseki this morning.  First, anybody found to have manipulated or falsified records at VA facilities has to be held accountable.  The inspector general at the VA has launched investigations into the Phoenix VA and other facilities.  And some individuals have already been put on administrative leave.  I know that people are angry and want a swift reckoning.  I sympathize with that.  But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened.  Our veterans deserve to know the facts.  Their families deserve to know the facts.  And once we know the facts, I assure you—if there is misconduct, it will be punished. 

Second, I want to know the full scope of this problem.  And that's why I ordered Secretary Shinseki to investigate.  Today, he updated me on his review, which is looking not just at the Phoenix facility, but also VA facilities across the nation.  And I expect preliminary results from that review next week. 

Third, I've directed Rob Nabors to conduct a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration—the part of the VA that delivers health care to our veterans.  And Rob is going to Phoenix today.  Keep in mind, though, even if we had not heard reports out of this Phoenix facility or other facilities, we all know that it often takes too long for veterans to get the care that they need.  That's not a new development.  It's been a problem for decades and it's been compounded by more than a decade of war. 

Here is the president's 20-minute speech for those who wish to watch. He took two whole questions:

Who knew what when?

The Washington Post got its hands on a memo showing that VA management knew as far back as 2010 that hospitals were hiding treatment delays and canceling appointments in order to make it appear they were meeting the department's goal of seeing patients within 30 days of requests for treatment. This memo backs up testimony before a Senate committee from Robert Petzel, the VA undersecretary who resigned last week as the scandal exploded.

Nevertheless, the president is standing behind Shinseki so far and refusing calls to fire the VA secretary. The Hill notes that Democrats are joining Republicans in unhappiness in the way the president is handling the scandal:

Rep. John Barrow (Ga.) called on embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, making him the first Democrat in Congress to do so. He was quickly joined by Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who said he was "very disappointed" with President Obama's handling of the situation.

"Unfortunately, this administration has fallen short in providing the kind of care that our veterans have earned. While I don't think a change in leadership will immediately solve the serious problems that plague the VA, I do think it's time to give someone else an opportunity to lead the agency and begin the rebuilding process to ensure these issues never happen again," Barrow said in a statement. "Secretary Shinseki deserves the utmost respect for his service, but it's time for someone new to get to the bottom of what's happened on his watch."

"The first person we need to fire is the secretary of Veterans Affairs," Scott said Wednesday on the House floor. "We respect him, we respect his sacrifice for his country and everything else, but the buck stops at the top."

Scott also criticized the president for not demonstrating a sense of urgency in trying to fix these problems.

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  1. Why is this a surprise? We as a people, wanted the cheapest system to pay for the care of our vets and we got it. You have the government paying for and providing care for a political minority, corners will be cut, people will die. Is anybody running on scrapping the VA?

    I don’t think we could, should or will just cut them loose. I’d like to see some discussion of the alternatives. How much would it cost to put them on Medicare? How much if we gave them vouchers for private care?

  2. I used to work at the benefits wing of the VA.

    “How much would it cost to put them on Medicare?”

    Less.

    “How much if we gave them vouchers for private care?”

    Less still.

    Why won’t this happen? Impetus. There are Billion dollar facilities out there, and hundreds of thousands working for the VA. I’m all for getting rid of ALL of them, but there’s very few politicians who would actually suggest such a thing.

    But more important to the govt control-freaks than that, this would all prove that socialized medicine abjectly fails on every count. If “we can’t take care of our heroes”, even given a (practically speaking) infinite budget, then their entire world-view is proven wrong.

    No, they will remove some meaningless people and throw more money into the abyss.

  3. Meh. I give it two weeks. At that point some other news will occupy the masses and this will be filed in the “Phony Scandals” file.

  4. Here is the president’s 20-minute speech for those who wish to watch.

    Shorter version:

    Let me be clear: I didn’t know the Department of Veterans Affairs even existed until I read about it in the New York Times over the weekend, and I don’t see how it’s any of you folks’ business who your dog’s doctor sleeps with.

    1. Okay, that made me laugh.

  5. Well, he’s already said he’s angry! Or at least he told his mouthpiece to say so.
    Do you expect him to do anything? What are you, a racist?

  6. The poll results haven’t come in yet, so he can’t take a hard stance.
    Once those results come in, and they’ve been thoroughly vetted, SOMEONE’S gonna pay!

  7. The simple solution is to give them government run health care instead of the VA.

    1. Well we’ve increased the budget by 50% in the last 7 years. So, obviously the reason the stimulus VA failed was we didn’t spend enough money!
      -Esq. P. Krugman

  8. The VA has a long and sordid history of this sort of thing, and in addition is especially notorious among government agencies for its treatment of whistleblowers. This is not unique to the Obama administration; the problem stretches back for decades. The solution* isn’t just the firing of the Secretary (although that should happen); the entire senior management layer of the VA has to be replaced. Then an Inspector General with true independence and real power (including criminal prosecution authority) needs to be installed. None of which will ever happen, of course.

    * Assuming, of course, that simple abolition of the VA is off the table.

    1. “Then an Inspector General with true independence and real power (including criminal prosecution authority) needs to be installed.”

      So, let’s see if I have this right: We need new and better Top Men? Is that it?

    2. “Then an Inspector General with true independence and real power (including criminal prosecution authority) needs to be installed. ”

      while that would be nice, it would not help. I predict this IG would never come out like Ken Starr on things – the IG would simply become a puppet of greater political machinations, and become part of the ineffective “oversight” layers, meanwhile providing new and improved political cover for those responsible – “There’s no issue here at the VA, we’ve passed the last 5 IG review with flying cover”. Think the VA equivalent of a FISA court.

      1. *flying cover = flying colors

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