I don’t think most Americans have fully come to terms with just how bad the Veterans Administration scandal is. In fact, it took Mark Knoller’s question in the aftermath of Gen. Shinseki’s resignation to reveal it all to me.
Eric Shinseki is a retired four-star general, and a wounded combat veteran himself. He lost part of his foot as a result of combat in Vietnam. It’s not yet clear whether he did anything to deal with the secret wait lists or the bonuses or not. It is clear that he promised to improve the VA’s wait times for veterans, and that he failed.
But it’s also clear that he is not the beginning or the end of the problem. He came into the VA in 2009, aware that there were problems, and promising to fix them. Problems in the VA go all the way back to before it was even called the VA. It has never been a well-run agency, and it’s fair to ask if it can ever be.
But most of those previous problems were not quite as awful as the current one. The current one may not even be fixable.
Shinseki, a wounded combat vet, just took the fall for what the bureaucrats below him were doing. He leaves the Veterans Administration in full disgrace after a career in which he earned the right to put four silver stars on his shoulder.
Those bureaucrats knew what they were doing. The whole time. They orchestrated the secret waiting lists. They paid out the bonuses. They figured out how to game the system, and they gamed it for all it was worth. Surely some of them knew that each day a sick veteran had to wait was a day on which that veteran might die for lack of care. Yet they kept the whole system going, for years, for their own selfish reasons.
Today, after Shinseki’s departure, they are still sitting at their desks. They are not resigning.
Apparently they do not feel the sting of dishonor. They do not feel the pain that they have caused. They terribly mistreated the very people who fought and sustained injuries defending those bureaucrats’ freedoms. And yet, there they sit, waiting for the weekend.
Their chief concern, today, seems to be “God, I just have to lay low and stick around long enough to collect my pension.”
Because, clearly, that’s all they ever cared about anyway.
Shinseki’s departure had to happen. He failed to fix problems he knew about, and if he didn’t know about problems, then that’s on him too. Knowing about and fixing problems in the VA was his whole writ.
The Veterans Administration scandal goes very far in discrediting the notion that government is the solution to every problem. President Obama himself said, during his panned West Point address this week, that the US military is not the solution to every problem, in the way that “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.” Yet for him, government is and will always be the hammer. It’s the only solution he knows, even when, as in this case, government — the lack of accountability, its faceless sloth, its turf-protection and empire-building and liberty-killing — is obviously the whole and entire problem.
Obama will remain part of the problem of government, never the solution. But even Obama’s failure and blindness are not the bottom of the problem.
Shinseki’s departure will not implant consciences in the bureaucrats who have watched him fall today, and who will go on about their lives. It will not put souls into selfish people who clearly do not have souls. They are the problem, they know they are the problem, yet there they still sit, after Shinseki’s public humiliation, just waiting for the weekend, and retirement, to live off the taxpayer, forever.
Because, in the end, that’s all they really care about.