Monday, May 23, 2016

Idiot of the Week (VA Edition)

It's been far too long since our dubious honor was bestowed and we appeared to have an easy winner in Bill Kristol, the neocon pundit who's been trolling for a third party candidate to run against Trump and Hillary.  So far, he's had no luck in finding anyone who's willing to waste six months (and hundreds of millions of dollars) in a futile bid against the presumptive GOP and Democratic nominees.

To be fair, the contest between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is a bit like deciding between arsenic and hemlock; the outcome will be grim, perhaps fatal, regardless of your choice.  But the idea of recruiting a candidate who would personally deliver the White House to Hillary Clinton is nothing short of a suicide run.  For that alone, Dr. Kristol would normally be a slam-dunk for Idiot of the Week.

Luckily for him, VA Secretary Robert McDonald jumped into the gap and rightfully claimed the booby prize.  In case you haven't heard, the man charged with fixing our broken veterans' health care system told a Washington breakfast that wait times for medical services really don't matter; it's the experience that "counts:"

More from Sarah Westwood at the Washington Examiner:

[The] Veterans Affairs Secretary on Monday compared the length of time veterans wait to receive health care at the VA to the length of time people wait for rides at Disneyland, and said his agency shouldn't use wait times as a measure of success because Disney doesn't either.

"When you got to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what's important? What's important is, what's your satisfaction with the experience?" McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. "And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure."


McDonald faced questions at the breakfast about the VA's lack of transparency surrounding how long veterans must wait to receive care at VA facilities around the country. The agency has weathered controversy over the past several years due to its struggle to provide timely care for many patients.

The VA secretary said most veterans report being satisfied with their care and argued that the average wait time for a veteran seeking VA treatment is only a matter of days.

He said he did not believe a measure called the "create date," which gauges a veteran's wait time by counting from the day the veteran first requests care, was a "valid measure" of a veteran's VA experience.

Of course, Secretary McDonald is wrong on all counts.  Perhaps he's forgotten why he was hired in the first place: because thousands of veterans spent months--sometimes years--waiting for health care that was never delivered and some of them died in the process.  Meanwhile, legions of VA bureaucrats created phony lists to hide the delays and made it appear that patients were being seen in a timely manner, so they could collect their annual bonuses.  

And things have actually gotten worse since McDonald replaced the equally hapless Eric Shinseki at the VA.  Less than a year ago, the Washington Post reported that wait times for some VA services have actually increased during McDonald's watch, despite the infusion of billions of dollars in new funding.

Making matters worse, the new VA Secretary has made little progress in weeding out the criminals and incompetents who populate the workforce at various veterans hospitals and other facilities around the country.  Testifying before Congress, McDonald claimed to have fired 900 workers, including many with ties to the appointment scandal.  But a closer examination revealed that most were probationary employees who were let go after one year on the job.  The same post investigation found that only 60 VA staffers had been disciplined in connection with the scandal, and most remained on the job.  

Even more disturbing: not a single VA employee has been faced criminal sanctions for the appointment scandal.  We're not federal prosecutors, but it would appear that creating falsified records to collect a bonus might be grounds for fraud charges, at a minimum.  But then again, no one at the VA seems particularly anxious to punish the guilty.  Lest anyone forget, the agency's inspector general, in an impressive feat of oversight gymnastics, determined in 2014 that excessive wait times "weren't directly responsible" for the deaths of scores of veterans.  Obviously, the long delays for service didn't exactly promote good health, but the IG's contortions bought the agency--and it's new director--a little daylight. 

Two years later, it's apparent that Mr. McDonald is playing out the string and has abandoned any hope at meaningful reform.  Not that the commander-in-chief is pushing him to make things better for those who wore the nation's uniform.  Having weathered the storm, Mr. Obama has long since moved on to other things.  In fact, the VA scandal is a model for all the controversies that have engulfed the Obama Administration, and how they are handled.  Faced with a crisis and/or potential activity, the White House adopts the "right" narrative, feeds it to a compliant media and hunkers down, waiting for the scandal to blow over.  

Indeed, the VA controversy was squarely on the back burner until McDonald opened his mouth this morning.  But don't look for the one-time Proctor & Gamble CEO to lose his current gig.  The President doesn't want to go through the hassle of finding another VA Secretary for the last six months of his term, and so far, we haven't found a single Republican politician who has called for McDonald to resign.  Better to use him as campaign fodder and let the agency keep lurching along.  If the "VA experience" kills a few more vets, no big deal.  The smart boys and girls in D.C. view veterans as a shrinking voting bloc--they're much more concerned about courting the federal employees who work at the VA, a much more reliable constituency for Democrats.  

In a sane world, Robert McDonald would already be on his way out the door.  You'd think that a former Titan of the Business World might have more of a clue about customer service.  Clearly, the stores that sell P&G products--and the consumers who buy them--would never tolerate the kind of "service" that McDonald is providing through the VA.  And for that matter, neither would the folks who run Disney.  Contrary to Mr. McDonald's assertions, the Mouse keeps very close tabs on wait times at its theme parks, because Disney understands that unhappy "guests" are less likely to return and spend more money.  Wait times for various Disney attractions is as close as the internet; you can even download an app and find out how long you'll wait in line for Space Mountain or Cinderella's Castle.  

And we're talking about an amusement park, not a vast health care network whose service level can mean the difference between life and death.  That's one reason why there will never be a smart phone app for wait times at the VA; those are still measured with a calendar and no one at the agency wants to admit that the situation may be worse than before.  Leading that parade is a West Point grad who ought to know better, but sadly, he's just our Idiot of the Week.              





coconut commando said...

Do you think that if the law required the president, the VP, all congressmen & women, all senators and their entire staffs as well as all cabinet-appointed "leaders" AND THEIR FAMILIES to receive their healthcare by the VA and go through what we do, they would actually do something effective to repair the problems? I don't really place any belief or confidence in their "solutions" because they have no actual stake in it unless it affects them directly. Look at Obamacare, they voted to make themselves exempt from that abortion of a plan while forcing it on the rest of America. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander….unless your program is a hot mess, then we’ll make ourselves exempt

Nancy Reyes said...

I worked for the IHS (Federally run Indian Health Service).
The problem is that bureaucrats aren't there to serve people but to fulfill the details in the regulations.
So if the regulation is followed, they are in the clear.
If Disney land did this, they would soon find folks going down the street to another theme park...but the veterans often don't have an alternative.