American Elephants

The Vets Are Still Waiting, Mr. President! Lots of Talk, Not Much Action. by The Elephant's Child


A year ago, the Veterans Administration scandal broke. Wait times were extreme, vets got sicker or died waiting for appointments for care. The VA was covering up, cooking the books and hiding their lack of performance. President Obama was outraged and pledged “urgent reforms.” Congress gave him billions to fix the problem. Would you be surprised to find that nothing has changed. Nothing at all.

On April 9, 2014, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs announced its findings that several veterans have died waiting for treatment at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, and the organization had kept two sets of books to conceal the problems. The scandal spread, it became clear that other VA facilities were involved, and attempts to hide the problems multiplied. By August, the head of the VA was dismissed, and Congress wrote a $16.3 billion bill to fix the disgraceful problem.

Obama quickly signed the bill into law, and spoke of how his administration was” moving ahead with urgent reforms’ and “instituting a critical culture of accountability. They were, he said getting 215,000 vets off wait lists, and the new law would let vets who could not get timely care through the VA get the care they need someplace else.

The press, and Obama moved on to more interesting things. But the Associated Press decided to follow up and see how much things had improved.They haven’t. 894,000 medical appointments completed between Aug. 1 and Feb. 28 failed to meet the VA’s timeliness goal which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days. The number of vets waiting more than 30 or 60 days for non-emergency care has stayed flat. The number of appointments that take longer than 90 days has nearly doubled.

Most were clustered at VA facilities in a handful of Southern states where there is a strong military presence, and growth in numbers of patients that has outpaced the bureaucratic planning process. Of the 75 clinics and hospitals with the highest percentage of patients waiting more than 30 days for care,12 are in Tennessee or Kentucky, 11 are in eastern North Carolina and the Hampton Roads of Virginia and Georgia, Southern Alabama and north Florida. Total enrollees have grown from 6.8 million in 2002 to 8.9 million in 2013.

This is how bureaucracies work, especially government bureaucracies. Somebody has to be in charge with the authority to make things happen. There are rules and regulations that must be followed at every step,and approvals from layers of supervisors, who are also obligated to follow the rules. That’s just for doing things. If you are building a new clinic or expanding or remodeling an old one, it can take years.

Confronted with this kind of situation, the Left usually wants to add another layer of supervisory control to take charge and speed things up. That’s what created the problems in the first place. Somebody up the line made a decision about what was a reasonable time for a vet to wait for an appointment for care, and did not ask the facilities if they could meet that timing. They couldn’t, and didn’t want t admit it and get fired, so they covered up, and of course the cover-up didn’t fix anything and matters only grew worse. Republicans want smaller government, partly because multiple layers of supervision only make things worse, because nobody is in charge with the ability to make things happen.

That goes for Presidents too. Mr. Obama fired General Shinseki and appointed Robert McDonald as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He signed the $16.5 billion bill, made a lot of promises, but follow up was limited to a speech at the American Legion a few weeks after signing the bill. He said “We are going to fix what is wrong. We’re going to what is right by you.” Long wait time.


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