Three officials of the Veterans Administration — none of them named Eric Shinseki — appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Committee last evening to answer for a report earlier in the day on the shameful treatment the VA is giving veterans, particularly in the Phoenix office.
Witness this questioning from a Republican lawmaker from Indiana…
It’s an election-year issue now, which is sending partisans to their respective corners. The exception, apparently, are lawmakers who are in tough re-election fights. Three Minnesota lawmakers — Franken, Walz, and Peterson — yesterday joined Republicans in calling for the ouster of the boss of the VA. Walz serves on the committee.
But some Democrats in safe seats called the outrage at the hearing “grandstanding.”
The urge to want the head of the Veterans Administration to step aside for the sake of symbolism if nothing else is understandable. Still, as the Wall St. Journal article makes plain today, there’s more than a need for symbolism and re-election posturing.
The Phoenix VA has been under fire since mid-April when a former physician from the facility and the House Committee on Veterans affairs alleged that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments. At a May 15 Senate hearing, Richard Griffin, the VA’s acting inspector general, said that out of 17 cases reviewed to that point, there was no evidence of patient deaths tied to excessive wait times.
Mr. Shinseki placed the director of the Phoenix VA, Sharon Helman, on administrative leave on May 1, pending the results of the inspector general’s review. She has said that she didn’t know of any secret wait lists, and that she understood Mr. Shinseki’s decision to place her on leave. A spokesman for Ms. Helman declined to comment.
In 2010, a VA memo listed a variety of “gaming” strategies used to exploit loopholes in the scheduling system. In its most recent reviews, the IG has identified these same schemes in use in Phoenix and other VA facilities.
Scheduling personnel told the IG that in a number of cases when veterans called a help line for an appointment, the scheduler would just print out a screenshot of the data. The printouts were eventually destroyed, and the IG “could not identify these veterans or confirm they were ever provided with an appointment.”
Another problem with the system: the Phoenix VA simply had switched off a number of audit controls within the scheduling software. As a result, neither the VA nor the IG were able to tell if “malicious manipulation” of appointment data had occurred.
The IG is also reviewing allegations of sexual harassment and bullying at the Phoenix facility.