The VA as microcosm.
Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 4/11/16
Two years ago this month, CNN broke the story that as many as 40 military veterans had died while waiting months or even years for health care at the Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix, Arizona. The details were shocking. They revealed a cynical, callous, bureaucratic disregard for the very individuals the Veterans Administration is supposed to help.
Among the outrages was the fact that Phoenix VA employees had doctored records in such a way as to make it appear that they were meeting VA goals for timely patient care. Those goals had bonuses attached to them, which the employees happily accepted.
As the story developed, we learned that it wasn’t just Phoenix. Similar horror stories bubbled up out of VA facilities all over the country.
The revelations were ill-timed for the Obama administration. The 2014 mid-term elections were looming and the administration feared losing control of the Senate – a fear that turned out be justified. Obama, therefore, issued strongly worded statements promising to get to the bottom of the problem and to hold malfeasant personnel accountable, etc., etc.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned on May 30 – figuratively falling on his sword.
Multiple Congressional hearings were held. An FBI investigation was launched. Legislation was passed that threw $16 billion at the problem.
But precious few people were actually fired. Among the spared were those who falsified records and yet received bonuses.
So two years later, how are things at the VA?
To the surprise of very few, not so good.
Wait times are little improved. Veterans are still dying waiting for care. VA employees who dare tell the truth about what is going on are still subject to harassment.
Democrats in Congress continue to call for more funding for the VA – never mentioning that it already has the second largest budget of all cabinet-level departments and more employees than the Marine Corps.
That no one is really surprised that the VA is still sclerotic, incompetent and cynically uncaring about those it is intended to serve is the very essence of this story. The VA is nothing less than a microcosm of the entire federal government – a top-down Leviathan that is callously and willfully unaccountable to those it is charged with serving and to the taxpayers that pay for it.
The VA is also Exhibit A for those of us who caution against any form of federally administered national health care.
The fact that a federal department can be so costly and yet so screwed up that it defies all efforts at reform is just one of many reasons that voters are unusually angry this election cycle.
The federal government – in the hands of an unaccountable bureaucracy and overseen by an ineffectual Congress – can’t get anything right and Americans have had it.
Is it then any wonder that candidates perceived as Beltway outsiders – such as Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – are the only presidential candidates generating any excitement this year?