On Friday, May 30, 2014, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who is also a retired Army General, offered his resignation as a result of the recent audit results and the Arizona scandal that is alleged to have caused at least 40 patient deaths due to delay in care at the VA.
President Obama accepted his resignation.
Senator Patty Murray, WA State, who has a long history of being an advocate for Veterans and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee weighed in on this latest scandal:
“There are serious problems at the VA that won’t be solved simply by replacing the Secretary, but I am hopeful that this leadership change will spark structural, cultural, and personnel changes, from the top of the organization to the bottom, to make sure our veterans are getting the care and support they expect and deserve.”
In most cases, care and treatment at VA facilities in Washington and throughout the country is generally good. The challenge is that accessing that care is often difficult, and as a result, frustration and deaths mount.
As reported by Seattle Fox News (Q13Fox), “Family members of late veteran Cliff Douglas, who was a VA Puget Sound patient, were the first to file a lawsuit. His family blames delays in treatment they believe cost him his life.
“What tied Cliff up, and what ultimately caused his death, is a referral never happened,” his sister, Connie Olberg, said.
On a similar note, U.S. Representative for Texas’s 16th congressional district, Beto O’Rourke, shared that investigations in Phoenix (http://goo.gl/IT1Kkr) revealed “that there is widespread fraud in how wait times are calculated and reported.”
Why the fraud? Managers were bonused for meeting aggressive timelines.
But this problem isn’t new and issues similar to this have been known to executive leadership and to members of Congress close to 10 years. The office of the Inspector General has issued annual reports since 2005 warning of this problem.
Yet, not until deaths due to delays and secret wait lists were reported did the VA give an appearance of being “mad as hell.”
Those in mid-level and executive VA leadership positions have failed to correct the problems. Systemic change is required and it requires new leadership to do so. This is hopefully just the beginning.
Here’s some good news: Representative Jeff Miller from Florida is drafting proposed legislation that will provide non-VA care to Veterans who are unable to secure an appointment with the VA within 30 days. The non-VA care would be covered by the federal VA. This bill will be introduced shortly, and if passed, will potentially reduce wait times and delays in care.
Bottom line: while this issue is critical and requires real change, we cannot lose sight of other important issues like improving the transition process and empowering the states through automation and improved methods to communicate with the FEDS so they too can better serve our Veterans and their families. Or, we can wait. And continue to talk about Veteran unemployment, delays in benefits, and escalating suicide rates.
— By Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.