On May 30, Eric Shinseki resigned as the secretary of Veterans Affairs amid a growing controversy surrounding the administration and treatment of veterans at VA medical centers, something that is said to have contributed to at least 40 deaths due to delayed care, and has 42 VA medical centers and clinics embroiled in scandal.
While it was noble of the now ex VA chief to fall on his sword, the action will have little effect on the problem. The VA has been broken for years -- since before the previous administration or the one before that. What is needed are real solutions to the problem that will care for vets as they deserve and have earned.
It's important to remember that veterans earn the right to their medical care through the VA. It is not a hand out.
The dysfunction at the Veterans Administration can be traced back to its creation. The VA was established in 1930 to replace the Veterans Bureau that had been established in 1921 to care for World War I veterans and was just as wrought with problems and shameful activities as today's VA. Promises made to World War I vets were never kept, prompting vets to march on Washington in 1932.
Several leaders have left the VA in a cloud of scandal over shoddy care or corruption charges.In 1945, VA Administrator Frank Hines resigned after reports of poor care. Then, in 1946, Gen. Omar Bradley, the VA administrator who replaced Hines, was also embroiled in scandal after suggesting that the government limit care for some combat veterans. Access to care remained a problems under Bradley as well.
From 1947 through today, many investigations into the activities of the VA, carried out by congressional committees, government commissions, and the GAO's Inspector General, have all found widespread instances of waste, fraud, abuse, shoddy care and cover ups -- essentially making the most recent scandal business as usual for the agency.
Since the 1970s, the increasing number of veterans seeking care through the VA has led to problems with access to care. There are simply more veterans than doctors can see.
However, instead of searching for real world solutions, the VA instead opted to ignore the problem while the number of veterans who couldn't get the care they need at their local VA medical center stacked up. While this was going on, VA leaders were receiving bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars.
Despite the resignation of Shinseki and the undersecretary for health care, Dr. Robert Petzel, as history has shown, little will change. The culture of corruption within the VA is pervasive and it will take more than a couple of bureaucrats jumping in front of the proverbial bus for any real strides to be made.
That's exactly what the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, Sloan D. Gibson, and some in Congress are hoping to do. They are going to have an uphill battle, however, as the problem is so severe. The American public, including veterans, are looking upon the actions of the VA with extreme skepticism.
In a speech conspicuously given in Phoenix, Arizona on June 5, Gibson issued a statement saying in part:
"As a Veteran, I assure you I have the passion and determination to fix these problems – one Veteran at a time. [...] We are using our current authority to immediately provide care in the community, to include primary care. In Phoenix, VA is working to award a contract which will extend the ability to use non-VA providers in the community for primary care. [...] We now know there is a leadership and integrity problem among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities, which can and must be fixed. That breach of integrity is indefensible. In Phoenix, we initiated the process to remove senior leaders. Across the country, VA has suspended all VHA senior executive performance awards for FY 2014. We will use all authority at our disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders. [...] Additionally, we will remove the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts to eliminate any incentives to engage in inappropriate behavior. We will revise, enhance, and deploy scheduling training, and we will continue medical center audits and site inspections.
These changes will help in the short term, but more needs to be done.
While the VA secretary and his undersecretary have resigned, if they are replaced with more bonus-minded bureaucrats, then nothing will change. This was the case with the nominee to the undersecretary position, Jeffrey Murawsky, who withdrew himself from consideration this past week amid concerns over the confirmation process.Murawsky was correct to withdraw himself from the running. Almost as soon as he was nominated, thanks in large part to social media, it came to light that he was responsible for running one of the hospitals that had a secret waiting list. Had he managed to make it through the confirmation process, veterans would not have been in a better position when it came to their health care.
This past week, congressional lawmakers rolled out a number of proposals to address the access to care problems at the VA. The Veterans Choice Act, spearheaded by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and supported by veterans' organizations, would allow veterans who are facing long wait times to seek care at civilian medical facilities with the VA covering the cost.
An even broader bill was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). Called the Restoring Veterans' Trust Act, in addition to allowing veterans to receive care at civilian facilities, it would also allow them to receive care at virtually any community-based clinic. Additionally, it would allow veterans to receive care at military facilities, and pass the bill onto the VA.
In the long run, the one change that has the ability to make the largest impact is for those senior leaders who are responsible for these types of deplorable situations to lose their jobs -- something that isn't so easy under the current system. Yet, that is something that members of Congress are working on as well.
The VA Management Accountability Act passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan majority last month, but there are some misgivings within the Senate and with the Senior Executives Association. They say that, as it is written, the bill would allow "political firings" under the guise of poor performance.
Democrats say that the Republican bill doesn't do enough, while Republicans say that the Democratic bill is too expansive and costly. So it seems that, even now, with so much at stake for the nation's veterans, it's simply politics as usual in Washington.
Photo Source: AP