Monday, February 09, 2015

One Year On....

With the one year anniversary of the Veterans Administration scandal at hand, it's remarkable how little attention is being paid by the mainstream media.  What a coincidence.

One exception is the Arizona Republic, which has a scathing editorial in today's edition.  As the editorial board reminds us, precious little has changed at the VA, despite dismissal of the agency's director, numerous investigations and continuing complaints about long waits for medical care.

A few excerpts:

The greatest fear among reformers of the Veterans Affairs hospital system has been that the behemoth bureaucracy simply will wait them out.

Let the months and years pass. Let the outrage subside. Let the reform-minded lawmakers and the whistle-blowers move on to other things.

It turns out, however, that there is something else to dread — something that may be just as much of an impediment to improving our veterans' health-care as bureaucratic inertia.

And that is: incompetence. In some cases, as in the VA's vile attempt to scuttle Sen. John McCain's medical-voucher program, an exquisitely malevolent form of incompetence.

Faced with a quality-of-care scandal, the VA is proving incapable of addressing some of its grossest flaws, especially in urology care.


At the start of last year's inquiries, investigators quickly discovered that the Phoenix VA hospital's urology department was uniquely hapless, even compared to an administration so inept it couldn't schedule appointments for new patients for months and, even, years. Urology, they concluded, was so dysfunctional, it needed its own investigation.

As the one-year anniversary of the VA patient-care scandal passes, we still have yet to see the urology department investigation results. We still do not know the full extent of the delays and other incompetence that occurred within urology prior to last year's scandal.

We do know a little more, however, about what has been done to improve urological care at the Phoenix VA since the scandal broke. Next to nothing.

According to a memo prepared a month ago by an assistant VA inspector general, the department remains in disarray.

Should this come as any surprise?  Hardly.  Last August, we noted the VA was already in full, bureaucratic hair-splitting mode, releasing a report that claimed it could find no link between excessive appointment delays and the deaths of more than 40 veterans seeking treatment at the Phoenix VA.  Six months later, one of the worst clinics at Ground Zero for the VA scandal is still riddled with problems, and no one can find out how bad the situation really is, or the condition of many vets referred to private doctors.

As with other scandals that have surfaced during the Obama Administration, attempts at ferreting out wrong-doers--and holding them accountable--are a secondary consideration.  Far more important are the optics of the situation, which were accomplished by the forced resignation of the former VA Director, General Eric Shinseki, and his replacement with Robert McDonald.  Another West Point graduate (Class of 1975), Mr. McDonald faces a Herculean challenge in reforming the agency.  And he's painfully aware that the clock on his tenure is already ticking, and a new president will likely choose a new VA administrator in 2017.  Meanwhile, the legions of incompetent VA bureaucrats can simply run out the clock, while the agency awards hundreds of millions a year in "performance bonuses."    

Not that it really matters to Mr. McDonald's boss in the White House.  As a few media outlets reported at the time, the President's motorcade drove past the Phoenix VA facility during a January visit to Arizona.  Predictably, Mr. Obama did not stop and Congressional Republicans complain he has yet to offer a long-term vision for reforming the VA.  

Advice for Speaker Boehner and Senator McCain: don't hold your breath.


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