The results of the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general into the allegations that veterans have been moved through the health system at a snail’s pace while a cover-up was conducted so that VA executives could still get raises and bonuses showed they were more than suspicions. They are facts, and the actions have been widespread in the organization.
Even though the inspector general says that determining whether the deaths that have been blamed on the lack of timely health care for veterans will take a while longer, there is more than enough evidence at hand to warrant a thorough housecleaning. And the the first VA official swept out should be the department’s secretary, Eric Shinseki.
The inspector general found that the abuse of U.S. military veterans who were seeking health care through VA was widespread and systematic. The flash-point for this most recent report were accusations against the Phoenix, Ariz. VA office, where the investigation confirmed that about 1,700 veterans were being relegated to a secret waiting list. These men and women who served their nation were placed in medical limbo for months so that VA officials there could lie about wait times, enabling them to get pay raises and performance bonuses, all of which were unearned, to say the least.
As it has been said, the love of money is the root of evil, and that root appears to be running deeply into the VA bureaucracy. That anyone could take unearned additional pay while men and women who fought and suffered injuries and health problems protecting our nation saw their health deteriorate while they waited for medical treatment is more than unconscionable. It is criminal.
Another larger shoe may be soon to drop in this sordid affair. The investigation has been expanded to 42 other VA locations throughout the United States. What will be uncovered when all is said and done is anyone’s guess, but a safe guess would be that there is a need to prepare for more outrageous findings.
As we have already said, extraordinary measures should immediately be taken. If VA facilities are inadequate, the federal government should — and the American public should demand it — get these veterans in with private health care physicians through a voucher system or any other means. We have an obligation to veterans, and it’s past time we lived up to it.
In the meantime, new leadership needs to be installed that places veterans first and ensures that their needs — not the checkbooks of VA executives — are the first concern. The VA has a lot of good people working in it, employees that, unfortunately, will be painted with the same brush as the miscreants in the eyes of much of the public. They’re also victims of the greed that led to this unbelievable mess.
Shinseki should resign before the president is forced to fire him. We have little doubt that the culture and actions that boiled over in Phoenix had roots that predated his appointment in 2009. The inspector general said it had filed 18 reports on scheduling problems with the VA since 2005. It is inconceivable that Shinseki would not have had access to those reports. He was — or should have been — aware of the problems and he should have taken whatever action was needed to correct them. As the top official of the agency, that is his job. More than that, it is his duty to the veterans he serves.
But from all appearances, it has been business as usual. Patients suffered. Executives got well paid while they suffered.
Shinseki had an opportunity, and he blew it. Removing him from his job won’t instantly make the issues go away, clean out the unscrupulous agency employees, improve medical care for veterans and rehabilitate the agency’s image. But it will allow President Obama to appoint an individual who will do those things while federal officials see that veterans get immediate help outside the VA system. Change for the better should start now.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board