Another week, another Department of Veterans Affairs scandal (VA). A report covering a nine-month span ending in August of 2015,
released late last week, by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the VA, found that more than 100 veterans died while waiting for care at a VA facility in Los Angeles.
Veterans dying on waiting lists is nothing new to the VA. As far back as 2005, an OIG report determined there were inconsistencies among facilities in implementing established outpatient scheduling procedures. Nothing was done about it.
Another report showed the problem continued to fester in 2008. During the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations, the outgoing team warned the incoming team not to trust the wait times. This begs the question, why didn’t the Bush administration do anything about it if they knew it was going on?
The Obama administration did not fare better than the Bush administration. A memo from April of 2010, detailed dozens of strategies being used by employees to game the system and keep the official wait times under as specific number of days. Wait times were used as performance goals for issuing bonuses.
The VA scandal exploded across the headlines in 2014. The OIG released another report in August of 2014, indicating there were multiple waitlists and deaths, possibly linked to waitlists within the Phoenix VA Health Care System. From there the scandal grew, and hit numerous VA facilities.
All facilities had the same symptoms: fraudulent waitlists for bonuses.
The scandal finally reached Congress and multiple hearings were held. The hearings made for great television, with members from both parties in both houses expressing their outrage. Of course, nothing was done about it.
Perhaps the most disturbing fact, is no one has been charged with a crime. If employees are creating counterfeit waitlists for the purposes of receiving performance bonuses, that seems like fraud. If multiple employees participated in the fraud, that seems like conspiracy to commit fraud. If someone died because of a fraud being committed, that seems like involuntary manslaughter. Yet, no one has been charged. Would the feds be so lenient on you?
Neither of the previous administrations could get a handle on the VA scandal. Will the current administration be able to tame the VA beast? One of the cornerstone campaign issues of President Donald Trump was to take care of the nation’s veterans. President Trump saw what was happening to veterans and became a vocal critic of everyone involved in the mistreatment of veterans.
President Trump has so far indicated he wishes to reform the VA. Trump promised to fire any VA employee who commits criminal acts or workplace negligence. He further stated, “If such a dismissal violates workplace rules, they can sue me.”
The President has also signed the Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veteran Affairs executive order, establishing an office of the same name within the VA. The aim of the office is to maneuver around the bureaucratic red tape when it is time to remove an employee for cause. The office will also give more protections to those that report waste, fraud and abuse.
Trump’s new VA Secretary David Shulkin could be the man for the job. He has already indicated his willingness to close hundreds of vacant facilities around the country. A GAO report in 2008 estimated the cost of maintaining these buildings was $175 million per year. This seems like a no-brainer.
Veterans listened and turned out for then candidate Trump. According to Bob Carey, Director of Military Affairs and Veterans engagement for the Republican National Committee, “Donald Trump crushed the veteran vote. They turned out record numbers for him. He had the greatest margin of victory among veteran voters, 61 percent to 34 percent. That translated into 4.8 million more votes for him. Almost two million more veterans showed up at the polls this election than 2012, despite the fact that we have about half-a-million less veterans because the World War II generation is leaving us,” he noted, adding, “Seventeen percent of the Donald Trump voters were veterans. They only make up nine percent of the population.”
With veterans, Donald Trump would not be the President today.
The priority for the President must be VA accountability. Nothing in the VA will change, unless everyone in the VA can be fired. No amount of money or level of technology will fix a broken human resources system. If a GS-09 VA employee cannot be fired for cause, by their Senior Executive Service (SES) boss, why would the employee do their job?
Senator Marico Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced S.493, Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability First Act of 2017. This is a great first step. The bill will give management the ability to get rid of employees that are a detriment to the agency. This should be an easy sell. What is the reason for keeping employees that lie? There are tens of millions of Americans looking for work, who might love a government job with great benefits.
The veteran community showed up for President Trump on election day, now he needs to show up them.