President Harry Truman had on his desk a sign that said “The Buck Stops Here.” For leaders everywhere that’s a true statement. Put in military terms, a commander is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do. I was taught that at every level of my military training. Bureaucrats can make excuses and duck blame—leaders can’t. period.
Well, the current Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who was earlier the Chief of Staff of the US Army, a 4-star general, is missing in action. Since proof of crisis after crisis has poured out of the VA he has said and, apparently, done nothing. Neither have any of his top level subordinates. They are neither providing leadership nor accepting responsibility.
Here’s what I would hope would have happened when the Arizona VA hospital found itself getting behind in meeting the medical needs of their veterans. I’d expect the leader to pass the word up the chain of command that the demands were greater than the resources available to meet them—that help was needed. Thus, leaders—even as high as Secretary Shinseki if necessary, could take action to meet the need. If funding wasn’t available, they could lobby congress for more funds. Folks, I hope everyone believes that we, our nation, every one of us, owes these hurting vets top quality and timely health care?
Friends, the VA has been failing to provide timely care for many vets for years. Now, part of this is because we really abused our military over the past decade, with back-to-back-to-back deployments; that wore-out a lot of good soldiers—and now they need our VA to help fix them—and that is the mission of the VA.
Other than denying that there is any real problem and dishing out big bonuses to senior VA leaders, has anyone heard anything from senior VA officials lately—say for the past year?
Let’s get specific: At least 40 patients in the Phoenix VA health system died as a result of delayed care. Okay, 40 are dead. Now, if you were the person running that hospital—or the boss of the person that ran that hospital, what would you have done when you heard those numbers? Actually, you should have been told every time there was a death. Anyway, now you’re confronted with 40 deaths. What do you do? Investigate—you get quickly to the bottom of it. Right? What did happen? Nothing. Nothing by the hospital head or any of her superiors. Nothing, until the media showed up. Then denial.
Now, this must be happening other places, too. We see a VA leadership culture of “don’t make waves and get your bonus.” Now, I’m talking about the senior leadership—not the thousands of good people who are working at the many VA clinics doing the best job they can—given their work load. Please don’t think I’m attacking them.
Here’s more evidence of the bureaucratic culture at the VA: More than 1.5 million medical orders were canceled by the VA without any guarantee the patients received the treatment or tests they needed.
Since May 2013, veterans’ medical centers nationwide have been under pressure to clear out 2 million backlogged orders for patient care or services.
They were given wide latitude to cancel unfilled appointments more than 90 days old. By last month, the backlog of what they call “unresolved consults” was down to about 450,000.
What happened to other 1.5 million appointments is something that the VA can’t answer. Can’t answer? Hello?
A review by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, of the process VA used to close old consult orders found that poor documentation in patient files and the lack of independent verification made it impossible to know whether patients got care they needed before their medical orders were canceled.
An April VA fact sheet said patients at VA medical facilities nationwide with gastrointestinal cancers died after they could not get the colonoscopys or other tests that had been ordered within the deadlines in agency policy. Those tests could have detected the cancers in their early stages, when they are most treatable.
The total number of deaths linked to this–was not revealed.
And there’s more—very, very, very much more.
Think about this. Suppose a hospital in your community failed to provide timely health care for lots of people—resulting in some deaths. In my town the media would be all over them—as would law enforcement. The leaders would end up in jail for sure—maybe the hospital would be shut down. And that’s the proper response.
At the VA they’re simply in denial mode; minimal comment to the media—and they’ll still get their bonuses. Give me a break. We are a nation of laws. You do the crime, you do the time. If it’s not a crime at the federal level to let people die and go untreated like this—then that’s yet another failure of Secretary Shinseki and his groupies.
Ric Shinseki and I were at West Point together; he was an outstanding Army officer. But now he’s a criminal. Since there are no leaders in the executive branch of our federal government it’s hard to say if anything will happen. The president should fire Shinseki and apologize to the nation—but he’s not. Shinseki should resign; I fear that he won’t—or if he does, he’ll be replaced by someone as worthless as he is. There is a law before Congress to specifically allow these unworthy, over-paid jerks to be fired. We need another law that will let them be jailed.
Folks, do communicate with your congress-critters on this; and pay attention to the folks who want your vote this November—see where they stand on this. Our vets deserve real leaders and real care.