Will they ever learn? Two years ago, a scandal broke when several VA facilities were found to be falsifying the time it took for a veteran to get an appointment to see a doctor. The records were cooked under the direction of supervisors who were failing to get clients in to see a doctor in a timely manner. Several veterans died as a result.
A new report by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general has found that the problem extends far beyond the handful of VA clinics targeted two years ago. The IG found that 40 VA facilities around the country were cooking the books on wait times and that supervisors were responsible.
The VA’s inspector general has released two years’ worth of reports totaling 70 investigations, finding that VA supervisors ordered employees to cook the books on wait times regularly, despite a promised crackdown on mismanagement and data manipulation by VA Secretary Robert McDonald. In some cases, investigators found that the falsifying of records at VA facilities had been going on for a decade.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, said the reports “outline a host of serious scheduling issues that masked wait times at VA facilities around the country.”
“And in classic VA fashion, almost no one has been seriously held accountable for any of this wrongdoing,” Mr. Miller said. “In fact, according to VA’s own data, the department has successfully fired just four low-level employees for wait-time manipulation. Right now it’s incumbent on VA leaders to explain why that’s the case given the IG’s findings of widespread wait-time manipulation and other serious problems.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called for a new investigation into whistleblower allegations that the Phoenix VA Health Care System staff have been cancelling pending appointments for deceased veterans to conceal connections between the pending appointments and veterans’ deaths, or to improve hospital and clinic wait-time statistics. Mr. McCain also asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review potential criminal activity at the VA, if a new IG investigation uncovers wrongdoing.
“This weekend marks two years since the scandal in which veterans died waiting for care on non-existent wait-lists first came to light,” Mr. McCain said. “Despite the severity of this national scandal, whistleblowers in Arizona continue to report serious failures at the VA, including gross scheduling violations that closely resemble the widespread wait-time manipulation that led to the crisis of denied and delayed care in the first place. It’s past time for this administration to root-out wrongdoing at the VA by holding corrupt executives accountable and finally reforming the culture that is denying our veterans the care they deserve.”
USA Today, which uncovered many of the IG reports through the Freedom of Information Act, said the probes showed that VA supervisors ordered employees to manipulate wait times in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont, giving the false impression facilities there were meeting VA performance measures for shorter wait times.
The culprit here appears to be a combination of lax supervision at the top and a pervasive, almost pathological mindset among VA supervisors to achieve bureaucratic goals at the expense of veterans’ lives.
The current VA secretary, Robert McDonald, was brought in from the business world to instill a different kind of culture in the VA. McDonald was CEO of Procter and Gamble, which manufactures excellent consumer goods, but I doubt he has ever had to face a management challenge like this.
He can’t fire anyone without going through an absolutely torturous process — which means these supervisors who should be going to jail are instead kept on board. The resistance to change of any kind is institutional — built into government service. The bureaucrats know that McDonald isn’t going to be VA secretary forever while they have a lifetime paycheck from the government.
Ultimately, the buck stops in the Oval Office. But fat chance getting Obama to admit any of it is his fault. He’s been passing the buck for seven years and it doesn’t appear he will be taking responsibility for any of his mistakes any time soon.