General Shinseki: We're Not Doing Right By Him, Our Veterans, or Our Nation

We got word yesterday that Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the VA resigned his position. While we could all see it coming, I’m sorry that more members of Congress asked a few questions before demanding his resignation.

The story began earlier this month when it was learned that employees of the VA hospital in Phoenix were falsifying appointment records. If a veteran asked for an appointment at any VA facility, he or she was supposed to get that appointment no longer than 14 days out; this was shortened from 30 days as a way to cut down on long delays in getting appointments.

Unfortunately cutting the expected wait time by 16 days didn’t change anything else. The reason for the long delays is simple: we have too many patients and too few providers. Middle managers did what they normally do when faced with an impossible deadline: they cheated. The cooked the books to make it seem that they were hitting their numbers when they weren’t.

There are a few articles worth reading on this: The Associated Press and today’s Los Angeles Times give a much more complex picture of this scandal.

I had to do a little digging for this information. It seems the 24 hour news cycle has reduced the story to this: The VA is incompetent, we need to find a scapegoat, and it’s news to go to the top: Eric Shinseki. Congress followed suit and began clamoring for Shinseki’s resignation. It finally became clear that they could clamor (and get on TV) seemingly forever, and a good and talented man fell on his sword.

The problem with the VA is much more systemic. In the last half of the 20th century we had wars in Europe, the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, along with countless other small actions. In the first decade of our current century we’ve already seen wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the AP article, the VA has seen a 17% increase in enrollments since 2009. Right now the VA carries 9,000,000 patients with 85,000,000 appointments per year. The VA web page shows 2,962 job openings and 746 of these openings are for doctors.

Simply put they haven’t been able to provide enough staff to cover the patients they are tasked to care for. That’s the problem.

Congress needs to provide adequate funding and prevent staffers from having to do this.

And as for General Shinseki, he deserves better than this. We owe him an apology.

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