Who does Barack Obama think he is kidding when he claims that he will not tolerate long waits or other problems at hospitals overseen by Veterans Affairs? He is not fooling the veterans subjected to shoddy treatment from government-managed health care, or politicians in Congress who have known about the problems at the VA for years, have failed to fix them, and are not going to fix them now. Why?
Veterans only matter when lawmakers have something to gain from putting them in the spotlight. The question this year is not how Congress and Veterans Affairs will make things better. The question is which party will do a better job of using veterans to ingratiate themselves with the public.
Veterans Affairs scandal is an old mess we will never clean up.
John Boehner’s call to “Clean up this mess to bring real accountability to the Veterans Administration”1 falls almost as flat as Obama’s promise to every veteran that he would “fix whatever is wrong.”2 Veterans Affairs administers real government health care, not Obamacare. This scandal is what genuine, euro-style government health care looks and feels like.
How could anyone be surprised at the newest revelations about the quality of care offered by the VA? Problems with Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics are the stuff of legend. In a 1998 report, the General Accounting Office described a situation suspiciously similar to what we are hearing now:
In September 1998, we reported that weaknesses at the Department of Veterans Affairs placed critical operations, such as healthcare delivery, benefit payments, and life insurance services, at risk of misuse and disruption.3
Are long waits something new? Hardly.
Is VA health care so bad more employees won’t help?
Don’t confuse feigned election year shock and outrage with caring about what happens to veterans when they need to see a doctor. They are not the same thing.
In December 2012 the GAO reported that appointment scheduling at VA facilities was unreliable, detailing waits of 33 to 210 days for procedures.4 The problem wasn’t new. It had been reported over a decade before:
Although access to timely medical appointments is critical to ensuring that veterans obtain needed medical care, long wait times and inadequate scheduling processes at VA medical centers (VAMC) have been long-standing problems that persist today.5
Should we pay attention to the inevitable demands from politicians to hire more government employees to fix the problem? A 2001 reported suggested that things were so bad more staff might not help:
Clinics also reported that they had too few staff, such as technicians, scheduling clerks, and providers, to meet patient demand for care. However, given the inefficiencies that we found, it was difficult to determine the extent to which clinics would have benefited from additional staff.6
When the smoke and bombast clear, what is the best we can expect to come of this new scandal?
Politicians prove veterans are good for one thing.
This is only a scandal because politicians choose to call it one. Otherwise, this is just government health care. It is not a problem caused by Democrats. It is not a problem caused by Republicans. It is not even Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki’s fault, though his head will be the biggest to roll. This is real government health care, up front and in your face. This is the public option we barely escaped.
When will Congress, the White House, and Veterans Affairs finally clean up the mess? Never. As long as politicians benefit from the opportunities for sanctimony the Veterans Affairs scandal dumped in their laps, this is one of those problems that has more value to Washington if it sizzles on the backburner and never gets fixed.