I feel sorry for former General Eric Shinseki. By all accounts, he was an excellent military man, competent, stalwart, and honest. And because of that, he was chosen to head the Veterans Administration.
The place where political careers go to die.
Shinseki came to the VA in Obama’s first term with a lot of pomp and circumstance; those days are long gone. With a myriad of scandals plaguing VA hospitals and medical centers across the country, the Obama Administration is now in full crisis mode, and things are likely to get far worse.
Although Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to make the ridiculous argument that the President only found out about these problems from ‘media reports’, the reality is Senator Obama was quite aware of these problems. In fact, one of his first attacks on then President Bush as ‘candidate Obama’ was regarding the VA. Here is Mr. Obama in 2007:
“When a veteran is denied health care, we are all dishonored,” Obama said. “When 400,000 veterans are stuck on a waiting list for claims, we need a new sense of urgency in this country.” He also promised more resources and better management to fix the problems seen at the VA. “As president, I won’t stand for hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for benefits. We’ll hire additional claims workers.”
Well, the utter failure is quite clear. The waiting lists that Obama referred to 7 years ago have grown, not shrunken.
Funding does not appear to be a issue. Spending has increased all but one year since Obama spoke so eloquently. Since FY2008, the VA budget has grown by 78 percent in six budget cycles, to $150.6 billion. On than 2012 when spending slightly decreased because of the sequester, the VA budget has averaged a 8% increase yearly.
However, the most recent revelations that started in Phoenix, and have now permeated through out the VA system, cannot be ignored. In Phoenix alone, 40 deaths are attributed to the long, unresponsive waiting lists. The number of deaths are sure to grow as we get more evidence and transparency.
I feel bad for Gen. Shinseki. The VA was a bloated, destructive government bureaucracy long before he walked into the quagmire. And initially, I was opposed to his firing over this.
That is no longer the case. His failure, either because of lack of competence or simply because the Herculean task of fixing a fundamentally broken government health care system is an impossible task, is quite clear at this point. He should step aside in any case. His retirement would at the very least provide the media attention necessary to force the Administration to act decisively. And possibly, with the right type of reformer, we could see actual productive improvements to the VA. Hope springs eternal.
It is time for real action at the Veterans Administration. We have as a country waited too long; and our Veterans are still waiting.