So, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned this past week as a result of the scandal over veterans dying while waiting to receive treatment at a Phoenix VA hospital.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller’s strongly worded call for his ouster surely tipped the scales. “The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s report provides a very disturbing view of what has been confirmed as a systemic problem at the VA. …” Heller said. “It is time for a leadership change at the VA at the highest level.”
The inspector general report indeed called the VA’s problems “systemic.”
“Allegations at the Phoenix HCS (health care system) include gross mismanagement of VA resources and criminal misconduct by VA senior hospital leadership, creating systemic patient safety issues and possible wrongful deaths,” concludes the executive summary.
The problem is not just systemic, it is endemic and pandemic.
You may keelhaul the captain of a sinking rust bucket, but you are still aboard a sinking rust bucket.
The problem lies not in who is heading this system, it is the system itself — pure socialized medicine. It is a bureaucracy that like any other organism has at its base the objective of self-preservation. No matter who you put in charge it will fail eventually, as it has done so over and over again between brief periods of improvement after one crisis or another.
The inspector general found that the Phoenix VA hospital staff lied about its waiting list, claiming veterans waited on average 24 days for their first primary care appointment, when the average was 115 days. There were 1,400 vets on the official waiting list, but another 1,700 had been excluded from the list.
A subsequent audit issued on the dayShinseki resigned revealed that 64 percent of 216 VA facilities reviewed had tampered with waiting lists.
A year ago, Obama was warned by the House Veteran Affairs Committee about “management failures, deception and lack of accountability permeating VA’s health-care system.”
Back in the 1980s the VA crisis was heart surgery. While investigating cardiac surgery deaths, it was found that there were “errors in operative technique” in 38 percent of cases.
In 1945 the head of the VA hospital system resigned after a series of news reports about shoddy treatment.
In 1947 a government commission found waste and inadequate care in the VA system.
In 1976 an investigation of a Denver VA hospital found some veterans’ surgical dressings were rarely changed.
In 1984 VA officials were accused of misusing $40 million set aside to help veterans with readjustment problems.
In 1986 the inspector general found 93 VA physicians had sanctions against their medical licenses, including suspensions and revocations.
In 1993 a blue-ribbon panel reported “unacceptable delays.”
In 2001 veterans were waiting two months for primary care and specialty appointments despite a goal of less than 30 days.
In 2007 some senior VA officials received bonuses of up to $33,000 despite a backlog of hundreds of thousands of benefits cases. That same year a commission reported “delays and gaps in treatment and services.”
Today the bureaucrats are still cooking the books in order to make themselves eligible for “awards and salary increases.”
Throwing more tax money at the problem is not the answer.
John Merline reported recently in Investor’s Business Daily that from 2000 to 2013, VA spending nearly tripled, while the population of veterans declined by 4.3 million.
The VA’s health care spending alone, which consumes about 40 percent the VA budget, climbed 193 percent during that time, though the number of VA patients increased only 68 percent, Merline’s research of VA data found.
Nevada has had its share of VA woes. The VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas cost $1 billion to build — twice what a private hospital costs — and took four years longer than scheduled. It opened with too small of an emergency room and no ambulance drop-off ramp.
This past fall a blind Navy veteran writhed in pain in the North Las Vegas VA emergency room for six hours without adequate pain relief and left without treatment or tests. Such lengthy waits and lack of care are not uncommon.
Be thankful that when FDR signed the GI Bill in 1944 he did not create a system of veterans’ colleges or we’d have colleges as bollixed as the VA hospitals.
It is time to dismantle the VA health care system and just give veterans vouchers to use wherever they wish.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may share your views with him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Read additional musings on his blog at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.