COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., June 1, 2014 — Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday amid the growing scandal at the VA. It was the right thing to do, but it solved precisely zero problems.
The scandal has been brewing for weeks; a preliminary report from the VA’s inspector general on Wednesday last week seems to have broken it wide open and given the secretary cause to resign. As a retired four-star general, Shinseki knows that whenever something major goes wrong in an organization, it is the leader who is accountable. The buck always stops at the commander; that is the point of accountability. The commander cannot say, “I didn’t know”; it is his or her responsibility to know.
That’s true for the commander-in-chief as well. In accepting Shinseki’s resignation, the president admitted to a share of the blame. “It’s my administration,” he said. “I always take responsibility.”
In fact, he doesn’t. Compiled sound clips of him and former press secretary Jay Carney saying variations of “I didn’t know about it until I read it in the papers” would be amusing if the stakes were not so high.
In the real world, results count.
Although the modern left acts as though they have read nothing other than Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, French Emperor Napoleon laid out this administration’s response to scandal two hundred years ago.
In politics … never retreat, never retract … never admit a mistake.
— Napoleon Bonaparte
It’s not particularly good advice. Major scandals such as Fast and Furious and Benghazi continue to plague the administration precisely because they are not dealt with seriously. Instead, they are papered over in the vain hope that they will go away.
The first such effort in the VA scandal was on May 16 with the announced resignation of Robert Petzel, the VA undersecretary for health. Unfortunately for the administration, it didn’t take long to come out that Petzel had already announced his retirement in the fall. Even when loyal bureaucrats are sacrificed for the greater good, they rarely suffer.
Responding to that announcement, Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Petzel’s departure “is not the step toward accountability that our members need to see from VA leaders.
“We don’t need the VA to find a scapegoat; we need an actual plan to restore a culture of accountability.”
Even sacrificing Shinseki, the next step up the bureaucratic ladder, won’t restore a culture of accountability.
The preliminary report from the VA’s inspector general found systemic problems at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., confirming the mounting reports of misconduct and lengthy wait times. Among other misconduct, VA officials at the facility falsified waiting lists to understate the amount of time veterans had been waiting for health care. The point was to meet numbers and gain bonuses. About 40 deaths have been linked to the delays in treatment.
The falsification of wait times by keeping an “off the books” wait list was not limited to Phoenix. VA facilities around the country, including the one in Ft. Collins, Colorado, have been found to be doing the same thing.
Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.
— Napoleon Bonaparte
The wait times are terrible but they are merely a symptom of the real problems. Predictably, Democrats have called for more funding for the VA as the solution. For them, the answer to bureaucratic failure is always to increase the size, scope or funding of the failed organization. However, statistics compiled by the Federalist from official government sources show funding isn’t the problem:
Nor is the problem inadequate staffing. Fox News reported that the VA has 1,080 job current vacancies throughout their network, including about 167 openings for physicians. Reports also allege that current staff are underused; a cardiac specialist who works at both a private hospital and the VA says that he sees eight patients in the morning at the private hospital; at the VA, two is considered enough.
Yet some VA facilities are overstaffed and underused, the result of pork barrel politics whereby a congressman gets a facility is his district — and named in his honor. This has been going on for decades.
Pushing only for growing an unaccountable bureaucracy, Senate Democrats blocked a bill by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the VA Accountability Act. The bill, already passed overwhelmingly in the House, merely allows the secretary of the VA more flexibility in firing employees of the agency who are not doing their jobs.
According to the personal experiences of Shark Tank editor Javier Manjarres, the problem at the Miami VA hospital is not so much the actual healthcare doctors are giving, but the administrative process involved. It took his father almost a full year to get an appointment for treatment.
Manjarres writes, “And here you have people like Democrat Congressman Alan Grayson saying that the VA is healthcare model that works, and needs to be emulated. The VA is proof-positive that government-run healthcare (Obamacare) does not work, and that is why the need for a healthcare voucher for veterans seems to be resonating from both sides of the political aisle.”
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According to the Census Bureau, there were 21.2 million veterans in 2012. The Veterans Administration estimates there will be perhaps 15 million in 2040. Clearly the need to serve America’s veterans is not going away.
On Friday, House Speaker Boehner said in response to Shinseki’s resignation “One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem. Our veterans deserve better, we’ll hold the president accountable until he makes things right.”
And we all need to keep Congress accountable.