Friday, May 30, 2014

Gen. Eric Shinseki's Resignation Will Not Solve The Veteran's Administration Mess

Well, it did not take long at all to pin the whole Veteran's Administration scheduling scandal on the VA secretary, Gen. Eric Shinseki as he became the highest-ranking casualty as he "resigned" today.
I put resigned in quotes because I do believe that that Gen. Shinseki was given the choice of being fired by the Dear Leader, President Obama, or resign.
Inexplicably, Gen Shinseki is being made the fall guy for a scandal that has been long in the making and a sad story of how the VA does not take the best care of all of our veterans.
Yes, Gen. Shinseki was at the helm as VA secretary for the whole Obama administration until today, but I can't lay this particular scandal all on him.
What it really is that the medical bureaucracy that is the VA is out of control and putting unrealistic goals on mid-level administrators.
And before anyone goes on the The VA has not been fully funded canard, under the Bush and Obama administrations, VA spending has gone up 235% since 2001 to today. Ed Morrissey takes us down the spending in the VA since 2001. And Team Obama has made sure to have double-digit budget increases in four out of the six annual budgets. And in the Morrissey report, he cites an article from John Merline at Investor's Business Daily explaining how much of those increases went to medical care and debunks a left-wing talking point that the VA budget has not kept up with the two most recent war theatres in the War Against Islamofacist Terror, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now the scandal started to percolate at the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital and that there were multiple scheduling lists. A real one that was on a computer and a fake one on paper. The fake one essentially was the Black Hole and where they might, or might not, actually schedule an appointment.
But even the real, computer schedule, had its problems.
This is from the link at The Arizona Republic:

July 2013:

In an e-mail exchange among employees at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, an employee questions whether administrators are improperly touting their Wildly Important Goals program as a success because it shows a dramatic reduction in wait times for patient appointments. "I think it's unfair to call any of this a success when veterans are waiting six weeks on an electronic waiting list before they're called to schedule their first PCP (primary-care provider) appointment," program analyst Damian Reese complains. "Sure, when their appointment was created, (it) can be 14 days out, but we're making them wait 6-20 weeks to create that appointment. That is unethical and a disservice to our veterans."

I highlight in particular the wait from the time a patient calls to schedule an appointment until the VA calls back to set an appointment. A call is made, the potential patient gives the pertinent information and gets a call back in six weeks. Assuming it is exactly six weeks, and it is every day and not just "working days", Monday through Friday, that is 42 days. Count only work days and add 12 days to the 42 and it could be as long as 54 days until and actual appointment is set. And that is the low end. If it is the 20 weeks out using the same formula, a potential patient is waiting up to 140 days or as long as 180 days just to see a doctor.
Now with the paper list, the reality is that few, if any, ever saw a doctor at the VA Carl Hayden hospital in Phoenix. And it is known that at least 40 veterans died as a result of this.
But it was not limited to the Phoenix VA Hayden hospital, but it is the worst.
According to this article in USA Today, scheduling delays and trying to cover up the delays are systemic in the Phoenix VA hospital. The report says that 1,700 veterans are not on any waiting lists to set appointments at all even though they need to see doctors. And as bad are the 1,183 that are waiting more than six months just to see their primary care doctor.
And according to the Austin American-Statesman, the Central Texas VA was cooking the scheduling books to show appointments for screenings seemingly sooner than they really were. And there is an e-mail trail to prove that to be the case.
So why is this happening?
Because the hospitals all want the bonuses that they receive if the appointments are in a timely manner.
So why the delays? Especially to see primary care physicians?
Remember, the VA has been funded thoroughly. And of course, there is built-in budgeting for the potential bonuses.
This is but the tip of the iceberg on how the VA medical system operates.
My father in law literally fought the VA for 10+ years to get simple hearing aids. And he deserved them. He was in the navy during the Korean War and worked in the machine room/shop on the ships. As a result his hearing loss began then and the VA would not approve the hearing aids because they kept trying to suggest other reasons for his hearing loss. He could have probably attained the hearing aids through private insurance that he had. But he served his nation. He enlisted before the armed services could draft him. And he deserved them. Eventually, he did attain the hearing aids through the VA. But it was not an easy thing to do.
And the above tale ended about nine years ago.
So it is not anything new.
The way that the VA operates and treats veterans has long been a disgrace. It transcends presidential administrations, parties and ideologies.
But the scheduling scandal, that escalated under the Obama administration. And yes, it did so under the tenure of the now former VA secretary, Gen. Shinseki. But because a lot of other problems began long before Gen. Shinseki became VA secretary, this was just another layer and Gen. Shinseki proved to be a lousy civilian administrator.
But the good general's leaving under a cloud (FTR, Gen. Shinseki served his nation with pride and honor and deserves our respect for that) of scandal is not going to solve the scheduling problem.
Because the whole VA system needs massive overhaul. And that will take someone from outside the government and the armed forces to take on. It will need to have someone with a strong business background that can apply positive changes to the system that will benefit all veterans. It is a project that could take many years for a lot of these problems took years to fester and grow like a boil on a rear end.
This is a huge test for the Obama administration. The president is going to have to make some very tough decisions. There is no doubt that this is a defining moment. Does Team Obama want to make the kind of reforms that maybe unpopular at first, but extremely necessary? Can they bring in that outside person to seek the reforms and make the VA work for the veterans and not just the bureaucrats? Clearly this will not be the task of the caretaker secretary, Sloan D. Gibson.
The "resignation" of Gen. Shinseki does not change the fundamental fact that there needs to be a through investigation of the scheduling scandal and that may require a special congressional oversight.
The only thing that has changed? Gen. Eric Shinseki is the scapeboat and the biggest head to roll.

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