Government & Politics

VA: Bureaucracy Is as Bureaucracy Does

The wait-time scandal expands yet again.

Michael Swartz · Apr. 8, 2016

It’s a scandal that never seems to be resolved. Nearly two years ago the first national reports of veterans dying from extended wait times for needed care appointments welled up from a Veterans Affairs facility in Arizona. Since then the scandal has extended to other VA facilities around the country, with a recent story detailing even more wait time manipulation and cover-ups. The good news is the VA inspector general’s office has investigated the scheduling practices of more than 100 facilities, finding most are either compliant or have minor, correctable infractions.

VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin believes the overall problem can be fixed. “It’s not a matter of just retraining people to be able to accurately record wait-time data,” said Shulkin. “This is a matter of actually redesigning and re-launching your whole approach to how you care for veterans.”

Then again, for most of a decade Obama’s VA has been promising to address these and other issues but can’t seem to catch up with the twin demands of aging Vietnam War veterans who are now entering a stage of life where they need more care, and veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who may need the VA’s assistance.

And while we’ve covered developments surrounding this scandal from time to time, such as considering whether the VA was a precursor to ObamaCare or how much the scandal would cost taxpayers, some families deal with the grief of needlessly losing a loved one.

Back in March, veteran Charles R. Ingram III self-immolated in front of the VA clinic in Northfield, New Jersey, as a final protest about the lack of accessibility to care for local veterans. Ingram committed suicide on a Saturday in front of the clinic, which was closed for the weekend. A local veterans’ advocate noted that calls for expanded hours, such as Wednesday evenings or Saturdays, at the Northfield clinic had fallen on deaf ears from the VA in Wilmington, Delaware, which operates the clinic as a satellite office. It’s a concern shared by thousands of veterans who live in rural areas far from VA facilities.

It’s hard to find anyone who disagrees that our veterans deserve top-notch medical care as part of the reward for their service to our country. But when the provider of that care continues what’s described as “systemic” manipulation of wait times, and a VA whistleblower fumes about what she calls “its corrupt and poor culture,” it may be time for a completely new approach that works to eliminate the government bureaucracy entirely.

This report, developed as a “strawman document” by the VA Commission on Care, posits the following argument: “All enrolled veterans should now be given the option of community care. A deliberate plan should be developed to transition the others to community care over the next two decades, with the details based on veteran preference, geography, infrastructure condition, and other variables.”

The baby steps toward this end came from a program developed in the wake of the initial wait-time scandal. Unfortunately, the Choice Card program, which allows veterans who face lengthy wait times the option to get private-sector treatment, is under fire because providers aren’t getting paid. Naturally, the American Federation of Government Employees is demanding that Congress pull the plug on the Choice Card because it allows private-sector intrusion on their VA turf. It’s only the lives and well-being of our veterans at stake, but the political football will be kicked around some more this election year.

Leave it to bureaucrats to perpetuate problems rather than solve them — all the better to ensure their continued employment. Dozens of incompetent VA administrators and managers can attest to that.

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