The developing scandal at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals makes another strong statement about the sustainability of government-run health care. The problem here–the scandal– is not the quality of health care provided to our vets at the VA hospitals; the problem is access. And the problem of access is the result of sheer government incompetence. Here is a summary of the situation.

For the men and women who commit to serve our country in the military services, one of the commitments our government makes to them in return is to provide health care for life. This commitment is especially critical for veterans of this country’s various wars. That is one hell of a commitment– a commitment that requires professional and creative management to achieve. The problem is that, apparently, professional and creative management seem to be foreign concepts in government.

Recently, we have been hearing a lot about veterans having to wait months to get care at some VA Hospitals. By law, veterans should be able to see a doctor within 30 days after making an appointment. But at some hospitals, veterans have been forced to wait months for care– and some have died while waiting. This alone is scandalous enough. But to hide the fact that these hospitals have not been meeting the 30-day standard required by law, hospital staff has been falsifying appointment records. Now we are moving out of the realm of simple incompetence into the realm of criminal activity.

For the record, President Obama says that he’s “mad as hell” about this and he’s going to get to the bottom of it and somebody’s going to be held accountable! He’s been saying that a lot lately about the various other scandals plaguing his administration. But he never seems to get to the bottom of anything and nobody ever seems to be held accountable for anything. That is why it is likely that the bureaucrats at the VA hospitals felt more comfortable falsifying the records than fixing the problem. And that says something about management in government.

Actually, to show that somebody is by-God being held accountable in the this scandal, the Obama administration did force one of the assistant secretaries of the Department of Veterans Affairs to resign last week. But in announcing the “firing,” the spokesperson forgot to mention that the man resigning had already planned to retire in a couple of months– and his retirement had already been announced in a press release. I’m not making this up.

I spent a number of years of my before-Key-West life in corporate management– like AT&T in New York City. That doesn’t make me a management expert; but it doesn’t take an expert to know that it is true that even really good managers may not be able to solve a problem with inadequate funding. But one of the things the Obama administration HAS been able to accomplish is to dramatically increase the VA’s budget. So, if lack of staff is cited for the inability of the hospitals to meet the increased demand for service because of two wars, why hasn’t management increased staff to meet the demand? The money has been there to do it. In the meantime, when under-staffing has made it impossible to provide medical care to veterans in a timely manner, why hasn’t VA management been creative enough to set up a system to allow vets to receive care from private doctors? But no, an incompetent, slothful management has been more concerned with hiding the problem, rather than fixing it.

President Obama met with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last week. Reportedly, the president chewed Shinseki’s backside– but told him he had one more chance to fix the problem. Shinseki is a retired four-star general and the former Chief of Staff of the Army. He lost part of his right foot when he stepped on a land mine as a young soldier in Vietnam. Obama, who is not a veteran, is a pussy compared to Shinceki– so the mental image of Obama chewing out a four-star general seems ludicrous. Although there have been a number of calls for Shinseki to go, the president’s decision not to fire him at this time may have been the right decision. Let’s see what happens.

NOTE: After this column had been written, the news broke that the Obama administration will be introducing a program that will allow the VA to send some vets who have been waiting for care to private sector physicians. Good. Very good. But why did it take so long? It’s not like Obama didn’t know about the problem. In fact, even when he was running for president before the 2008 election, he campaigned for veterans’ votes by criticizing then-President Bush and the VA for failing to solve the medical backlog problem. Yes, that’s right. He didn’t create the problem– but he promised to fix it. And promises either matter or they don’t.


Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D
Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper founded Key West The Newspaper in 1994 and was editor and publisher until he retired in 2012. He is a veteran.

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  1. I read a quote the other day…”Militarism is not a job, it’s a welfare program for sociopaths.”

    I think we can include all government employment in this premise.

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