It’s been 2-1/2 years since the scandal at the Phoenix VA broke. If you remember, 40 veterans had died waiting for medical care. The Inspector General’s (IG) report just came out the beginning of October. Has anything changed? No – it’s sad to say it hasn’t.
Phoenix wasn’t the only VA Hospital that was in trouble, but it was the worst at the time. If you remember, Washington did its usual routine. First it was bipartisan indignation and every member of Congress immediately found a camera and made sure that he/she was on record about how this would not stand, and how much they loved our veterans.
The second step in this Washington routine is to hold hearings and form committees. Forming committees however wasn’t limited to Congress, although they are good at it. Of course the VA began an internal investigation. Understand this is the VA investigating itself. Does anyone other than me find this absurd?
Not to worry. The FBI also began an investigation, as did the White House, as did the Office of Special Counsel, as did the Rand Corporation. I’m sure there were others – those are just the ones I found.
The first move was to fire the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and replace him with someone who knew more about things. Perhaps a Hospital Administrator, for sure a Doctor, or someone who had run a teaching hospital would know. But no – they hired the CEO of a Soap Company. This fellow compared the VA to Disney World. Probably the most accurate observation the man has made.
After that, his way of handling things was by out-sourcing healthcare. This was to allow a veteran who couldn’t get service from the VA to go to a private doctor outside of the VA. Sounds good on paper, but first the vet would have to go back to the same VA where he couldn’t get service and ask permission to go outside of that VA.
That’s kind of like losing an argument with your wife and going to your mother-in-law for a second opinion. Then assuming the veteran could accomplish that and fill out a pile of paperwork, then he/she would have to find a doctor who would accept what the VA pays and be willing to wait for that payment, and here again fill out yet another pile of paperwork. Mind you, these veterans are already sick and a large percentage of them are in their 80s and 90s. Needless to say, not many vets went for the new option. Stevie Wonder could have seen this one coming!
The VA pointed to this and said, “See, VA Health care is preferable to private care in the eyes of the veterans”.
In the meanwhile, at Phoenix the IG had issued six reports citing Phoenix for still mishandling appointments and mismanagement in General. Further in 2015, 215 more veterans died waiting for appointments. This after the VA had spent billions fixing the problem.
Besides bringing in a new secretary, the VA finally let go of Sharon Helman, the then director of the Phoenix VA. She later pled guilty to accepting better than $50,000 in gifts from lobbyists. Since her removal, Phoenix has had six other directors in 2-1/2 years.
The most recent left because Congress felt the Director had a “questionable record.” The latest director, Rima Ann Nelson, had previously run the St. Louis VA Hospital. During her administration there the Hospital had to be closed twice for unsanitary conditions.
Two things are obvious. The VA can’t or won’t fix the problem. Further, veterans are going to be mistreated and die without reason until there are consequences. Simply, it’s time to out-source what the VA can’t handle in terms of healthcare – and they have proven even under pressure with billions of dollars and a number of new administrators, that nothing has changed. Even the VA admits that.
Jerry Donnellan is the director of the Veterans Service Agency of Rockland County