It’s time for an update on the VA scandal. Here’s what’s been going on:
This morning, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki submitted his resignation to President Obama shortly after addressing the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at their annual conference in Washington, DC. In his address, Shinseki said, “I apologize as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs. That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me. . . . I will not defend it, because it is indefensible. I can take responsibility for it, and I do. Leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed now.”
The White House announced the appointment of current VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson as Acting Secretary. Gibson is a West Point graduate, a long-time banker, and a former Chief Executive of the USO (United Services Organization). He was confirmed as Deputy Secretary by the Senate in February 2014. While acknowledging that Gibson will have a learning curve, Mr. Obama stated his belief that Gibson was up to the challenges ahead.
Shinseki’s resignation follows close behind an interim report from the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) about their investigation into the appointment scandal at the Phoenix health care center. In the report, the OIG states that it has put together a team consisting of board-certified doctors, auditors, healthcare inspectors and special agents to conduct investigations. In addition, “Rapid Response Teams” are being sent on surprise inspections. The goal of these teams is to prevent further cover-ups or destruction of evidence. Investigations are occurring at more than 40 VA facilities.
The OIG’s report also issued 4 recommendations for immediate implementation. First, immediate action should be taken to provide health care for the 1700 veterans who are not currently on any existing wait list. Second, all wait lists at the Phoenix VA facility should be reviewed to ensure that the veterans at greatest risk be provided the necessary medical care ASAP. Third, a nationwide review of all wait lists should be done to make sure that all veterans are seen within the recommended amount of time. And finally, the Health Eligibility Center should do a nationwide check, facility by facility, of new enrollees to make sure that all veterans appear correctly on the facility’s official electronic waiting list.
A week before this report was submitted, the House passed a bill that would make it easier for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote senior staff. Shinseki claimed that some of his senior staff gave him misleading reports, and so this bill was introduced to Congress to allow him to more easily clean house. Although the bill has bi-partisan support as well as support from many veterans’ groups, the Democratic majority is currently blocking the bill’s passage in the Senate.
And finally, on May 19, 2014, two days before the bill was passed by the House, Obama publicly said that he had not been aware of the waiting list scandal at VA facilities around the country until he learned about it on television. Memos have surfaced, however, that clearly note that the VA itself informed Obama shortly after the 2008 election that its facilities might be concealing the actual wait times veterans were enduring to receive care.
Wait a minute… Did we just say that the VA itself informed Obama about the concealed waiting lists?! It seems that both the VA heads and the president knew about this issue long before now: more than 5 years ago. It’s a shame to know that a problem that has cost so many lives could have been addressed years ago.
We’ll continue to keep you updated as this story progresses.