Typically, VA scandal mired in politics

Veterans Health Administration Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations Thomas Lynch; Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney and Veterans Affairs Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs Officer Michael Huff testify before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Unquestionably, House Republicans smell blood in the water with the Veterans Affairs scandal, but last night’s House hearing on the scandal appeared to be more than just typical political theater.

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.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, questions witnesses from the Department of Veterans Affairs as the panel investigates allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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.

  • MrE85

    Minnesota’s facilities generally get high marks, I’m going to seek more information about them for our own care.

    However, clearly that’s not the case everywhere. Long delays have been common in some VA medical facilities since before I was born.

    While no one wants to see veterans treated in this fashion, why so much outrage now? This isn’t a new problem.

    • I notice the map of places where the VA has the most problems pretty much tracks with the places that still have military bases.

      I understand the motivation to dismiss the problem as “nothing new,” but I think aside from the politics of the situation, the fact we’ve created significantly larger numbers of veterans in the last 10 years adds to the urgency.

      • Agreed 100%.

        The Powers-That-Be here in the US seem to like to get involved in all sorts of military actions without actually paying for said military actions or the “clean up.”

        I, for one, am sick and tired of the US being so hawkish on the international stage. We can’t afford it both monetarily or with regards to the lives that are destroyed due to such action.

      • MrE85

        Point taken on the new veterans. I wonder how many of these younger vests are using VA vs other health care facilities? In my few visits to the VA Medical Center, I mostly saw older patients. I didn’t mean to sound dismissive, but part of understanding the problem is realizing that it really is “nothing new” and that a putting a new person at the top will not likely change things. I guess what we need is a nation that cares about our wounded and sick veterans ALL the time, not just when it’s in the news…or an election cycle.

        • It will be a neat trick for your vision of people caring ALL the time about the VA scandals to be accomplished by news media stressing that there’s nothing new to the story.

          I would disagree, however, in your interpretation. Are there delays in treatment now? yes. Were there “then”? yes.

          I would submit impact of the delays is significantly higher, now, however. The rate of mental health diagnosis for veterans, for example, is up 65 percent from ’01.

          I watched Wes Moore’s fine series “Coming Back” on TPT this month, which documented the experiences of returning veterans. Veterans, of course, have been returning from war here for hundreds of years. So that’s nothing new.

          That’s a fact, but it doesn’t mitigate the need for urgency.

          • MrE85

            You’ve stated the case for urgency very well. You’ve convinced me that if we don’t try to fix this now, when will it ever get fixed? I may have to write that letter to the President now…

          • DavidG

            Maybe a letter to your Congresswoman would do more? The President proposed changes, and an increase in the VA budget which were rejected by the House GOP just months ago.

          • Gary F
          • Don

            Letters to Congressman doe not produce results.

        • Al

          Husband is a ‘young’ vet (mid-30s). Won’t go anywhere near the VA. Thank goodness for health insurance.

          • MrE85

            My late father-in-law wouldn’t either. He was a WW2 vet. Yet I have heard good things about the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, and I would be willing to give them a try when I retire.

          • Don

            Fathers and grandfathers with distinguished military service are advising their children and grandchildren not to enlist in the military. The basis as I understand it being lack of medical care at the VA if injured and the unnecessary wars we are involved in.

        • Don

          Well put! I agree change at the top is not the answer. Considerable change within the 21 regions of the VA is what is needed.

    • Don

      Right, none of this is new! Many of the Phoenix type issues have been pointed out over the years
      regarding the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. The IG never did
      anything nor did anyone

  • Gary F



    Obama was outraged over the VA, outraged over the IRS scandal, outraged over Bengahzi, and he never got to the bottom of any of them.

    I guess America is tired of our President being “Outraged”.

    • KTN

      Hey, remember when President Bush brought us into two wars and thus increased the numbers of vets using the system. Nope, didn’t think so.

      Most on the right have such selective memories about things in reality. Bush is the reason this has happened.

      Before that war criminal brought us into two illegal wars, the VA, and by default, the vets, were receiving good care, then the President and his minions told us there were WMD’s (remember those), and our soldiers were forced into fighting for nothing- well, except the legacy of a failed President.

  • MikeB

    This is the Congress we voted for. This is how they get the attention they are looking for. Not about fixing problems like access to health care. Just call for the removal of the person in charge at the time, get it, and then move on to the next opportunity.

    • Maybe the trouble is we only vote for one congressperson.

      • BJ

        Or that we vote for our own congressperson? Polls show that some huge number of people disapprove of congress, but those same polls show their own congressperson is ‘great’ (at least more loved by far than the rest of congress).

      • Joe

        But we all have the liberty right to donate to as many congressional candidates as we wan’t, at whatever cash values we wan’t, no need to fear.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    The part of this I find potentially disconcerting is the calls to turn the VA health care system into a voucher system. Do the people making these suggestions truly believe that the private sector health care system can absorb all of these new patients?

    • DavidG

      Not to mention the specialized care needed by many veterans. The private sector simply doesn’t have the experience needed to treat much combat related trauma.

  • Gary F


    VA budget has gone up dramatically.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I don’t think Minnesota’s 3 helped themselves by releasing their calls for his resignation within a few hours of each other, granted the timing coincided with the House hearing. It made it appear as if they’d all been cleared by someone else to finally do it.


    Do A Financial Audit Of The Whole VA…..Every Line Of Money…. To See Where The Veterans Money Is Going And Then Stop Any Stealing Of That Money Electronically Being Sent By Treasury…..I Would Also Check To See If Life Insurance Policies Were Taken Out On Any Of The Veterans That Were Murdered…….It’s Always About Money!

  • MrE85

    Not surprisingly, General Shinseki has resigned today. A less than noble end of a lifetime of service to his country.

  • Pearly

    I think Ms. Brown’s wig is on too tight