Obama tries to blow off the VA scandal
It’s shocking to learn that the President who booted World War II vets out of their own memorial during Shutdown Theater would have a blase attitude about the outrage at VA clinics. Confronted with reports of veterans left to languish on secret lists until they died, Barack Obama yawned and assigned a White House aide to look into it. The obviously overwhelmed Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, staggered in front of a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to read some talking points and claim he was “mad as hell,” while cries for his resignation fell upon the President’s numb ears. That’s not how it works in ObamaLand, my friends. Nobody gets fired. Ever. (As is typical of Obama scandals, a few faceless bureaucrats have been placed on temporary “administrative leave” by Shinseki.)
Obama’s not even putting much effort into looking “outraged” by the story, the way he pretended to be outraged for a couple of days when the IRS scandal exploded. He seems, if anything, mildly annoyed by yet another unpleasant story to be papered over. The President, who found time to personally weigh in on L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s wiretapped phone conversations, dispatched his flack Jay Carney to inform the media he currently “concerned and angry about the allegations,” and if the secret waiting list story proves true, Obama’s emotional state might deteriorate to outrage. (Newsflash: there’s not much doubt that the secret waiting list stuff is true.)
Likewise, Democrats are performing political calculations to decide whether they have to break with the President and get harsh with his Administration over this. The Party’s anger has been rather muted, because they don’t want to make Obama look bad. They’re all running the numbers, checking out polls, watching the media coverage, and trying to decide if Shinseki blew it so badly before the Senate that they can’t cover for him any more. At this point, it doesn’t look like the Democrat caucus in Congress is willing to make fools of themselves to derail this particular investigation, the way they’ve acted to disrupt hearings into Benghazi and the IRS.
The story, which began at the VA hospital in Phoenix, has expanded to include similar secret death lists at a half-dozen additional facilities. At the Phoenix hospital, veterans seeking treatment were actually deleted out of the official computer system, and their documentation was shredded, when they were shoved onto the secret “ignore” list. It was a systemic effort to break the rules and cover up malfeasance, and it claimed at least 40 lives just at that one hospital… while highly-paid administrators claimed fat “performance” bonuses. A similar story of falsified records emerged from a clinic in Ft. Collins, Colorado. A new story has surfaced from Southeast Texas about thousands of veterans denied access to simple colonoscopies until, as one doctor with VA experience put it, they were bleeding out of the rectums – a delay long enough for colorectal cancer to progress from easily treatable, to inoperable and fatal.
Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs was blowing $500 million – enough to cover colonoscopies for every veteran with a stomach ache – on office furniture and curtains, with nearly $7 million spent on building a single conference room. This is bureaucratic incompetence, malfeasance, and deception on a scale we haven’t seen since… well, ObamaCare, which is dragging us toward a hellish single-payer future in which everyone enjoys the death-panel treatment given to vets. The VA scandal is a disturbingly exact mirror of ObamaCare, demonstrating precisely the same management characteristics as Barack Obama’s boondoggle: gigantic sums of money wasted, endless lies foisted upon the public, and nobody held accountable by Obama. Unless the President is dragged kicking and screaming into cleaning house by his frightened Party, Eric Shinseki will hang on until he gets the same fond farewell the monstrously incompetent and deceitful HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius enjoyed.
The strongest indication Shinseki might be in real trouble is that Democrats clearly weren’t buying what he was selling at Thursday’s Senate hearing, as related by CNN, which has been doing very good work on the VA scandal:
At his first congressional hearing since the CNN reports drew national attention to the issue, Shinseki told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that he was reviewing all VA operations and also cooperating fully with the independent inspector general’s investigation.
“Any allegation, any adverse incident like this makes me mad as hell,” he said, urging the legislators to wait for the investigation’s finding before trying to resolve a complex set of problems.
His assurance that “we will act” on any substantiated allegation angered senators from both parties who insisted the problems are real and need immediate action.
Some pointed to a policy implemented by Shinseki that set a 14-day limit to provide care for veterans applying for the first time, saying a deadline they labeled as unworkable resulted in VA administrators devising ways to cover up months-long delays.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina questioned why Shinseki, who has been Obama’s only veterans affairs secretary, failed to act sooner on problems long cited by veterans, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and others.
“With the numerous GAO, IG and Office of Medical Inspector reports that have been released, VA senior leadership, including the secretary, should have been aware that VA was facing a national scheduling crisis,” Burr said. “VA’s leadership has either failed to connect the dots or failed to address this ongoing crisis, which has resulted in patient harm and patient death.”
When Shinseki kept referring to the whole story as a series of unproven “allegations,” it was Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut who reminded him the secret waiting lists and falsified records in Phoenix are a matter of documented fact, not an allegation. Following the Senate hearing, it was announced that the VA inspector general would be working with criminal investigators, federal prosecutors from Arizona, and the Public Integrity section of the Justice Department to determine if criminal prosecutions are warranted.
Here’s the part of the CNN report that shows us just how personally outraged Barack Obama is:
Asked at one point if he should resign, Shinseki said caring for fellow American veterans was a mission, not a job, and he intended to continue working until he achieves his goal of improved care “or I am told by my commander in chief that my time has been served.”
In appointing White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to assist Shinseki in reviewing what happened, Obama said he asked Shinseki to review “practices to ensure better access to care.”
“While we get to the bottom of what happened in Phoenix, it’s clear the VA needs to do more to ensure quality care for our veterans,” Obama said.
Yes, you can tell the President is boiling mad about all this. He’s acting like the problem is a lack of decent reading material in the waiting rooms. He’s rattling off talking points about “quality care” instead of demanding resignations.
Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans of America, wrote an op-ed at Fox News comparing Shinseki’s claim that the VA is a “good system” to the biggest lie in modern history, Barack Obama’s claim that people would be able to keep their insurance plans under ObamaCare:
The totality of the Secretary’s remarks before the committee Thursday were not only deceptive, they were detached, defensive, and unbefitting a leader who, by now, should be fighting mad about the scandals engulfing VA, firing those responsible, and fundamentally challenging every assumption he has about the manner in which care is provided to our veterans.
Instead, Shinseki played the role of aloof bureaucrat, reading dispassionately from his prepared remarks in a monotone voice, as if this was a run-of-the-mill budget hearing. Shinseki’s comments were spot on in that respect—a perfect personification of VA’s indifferent and unaccountable bureaucracy.
As my organization Concerned Veterans for America has been saying for years—and Fox News has been reporting aggressively—the VA is an infected bureaucracy, incapable of delivering timely care to veterans; instead, the VA has been cooking the books to preserve the jobs and bonuses of senior officials.
Hegseth called for Shinseki’s ouster, as merely the first step in a process of fundamental reform… a process that pointedly would not include blindly pouring more money into a defective top-heavy bureaucracy:
Shinseki should be fired immediately—as my group, the American Legion, and many Senators have called for—but that is only the beginning.
Fundamental reform is needed, from top to bottom, to shake up a calcified and unaccountable bureaucracy. These reforms start with accountability at the very top, and throughout VA.
VA must also be made more transparent, and the benefits veterans have earned should be more portable—meaning if you can’t get timely or convenient care at a local VA, you can go elsewhere.
It also must be made clear that the problems at VA are not funding problems. Some individuals testified Thursday that more money might solve the problem. This is bogus.
Sure, there are certain aspects of VA that could use additional funding, but reallocation of existing funds would be more than sufficient.
In Phoenix alone, 59% of salaries are spent on administration and operations, notmedical care.
The VA bureaucracy is very adept at gobbling up additional funding; so before we spend more money on VA, we need to reform it. Let’s stop throwing more money at a bureaucracy incapable of using it wisely or efficiently.
Hegseth’s recommendations illuminate the fundamental conflict of philosophy at play here. What he’s calling for is the exact opposite of Barack Obama’s philosophy, in which the amount of taxpayer money handed over to bureaucrats is the sole metric of “success.” What happens to the money is utterly irrelevant. Obama is not even slightly interested in improving government or making it more transparent, in any respect – he is the greatest enemy of transparency this country has ever seen. He doesn’t think the public needs to know anything except what his regime wants it to know, and nobody has any business second-guessing his imperial decisions about how government should be structured. He views the flow of information from government to the public as a means for the former to influence and control the latter. Find me a single example, during Obama’s entire presidency, where any part of his Administration has humbly taken a knee before the American people and presented them with the full truth on any subject in a timely manner. You can’t even get Freedom of Information Act compliance from Obama’s royal government on any sensitive topic without suing them, as groups like Judicial Watch have been doing.
Another consistent thread of the Obama management style is that he judges top officials by their ability to handle the political fallout from catastrophes, not prevent them. It seems entirely foreign to his thinking that a high government official is supposed to carefully monitor and manage his department to ensure problems don’t occur. Obama views the highest levels of government as a royal aristocracy, whose days are to be spent on junkets, meetings, press conferences, and fancy dinners, not rolling up their sleeves and making sure their areas of responsibility are well-controlled. That’s why Obama himself didn’t bother to check up on how ObamaCare was coming along for over three years, or even check to see if Sebelius was minding the store. The notion of an exalted official getting held strictly to account, and even fired, because disaster occurred on his or her watch is utterly foreign to Obama’s view of regal government.
Barack Obama will take no action, or even make any statement, that would support criticism of his government’s pure and noble intentions. That’s another reason nobody ever gets fired during his scandals – he regards such action as a display of weakness, an admission of guilt, an invitation for further political damage from his opponents. You’re not supposed to question that any of Obama’s appointees, or their top lieutenants, are less than 100 percent invested in the tireless pursuit of noble goals such as “access to quality health care.” You’re not supposed to question Obama’s judgment in who he appoints, how he chooses to supervise them, or how he spends his time. And you’re not supposed to get angry at him for claiming he only learns about these massive scandals by reading the newspaper.
Obama’s official position on his own performance is that he’s never done anything wrong, and all of his problems are the fault of either his enemies or his predecessors. If he sacks Eric Shinseki, it will be slightly harder for him to maintain that pretense until he leaves office, so it’s going to take a lot of arm-twisting from Democrats before the President would consider such drastic action… and if it happens, I would bet heavily that it will be made to look like it was Shinseki’s idea to resign. At this point, I’d say the smart money is on nobody getting hit with anything worse than “administrative leave,” i.e. a paid vacation.
Update: And yet another secret waiting list is discovered at a VA clinic in Gainesville, Florida. This is a systemic crisis, not a little hiccup that can be fixed with “reforms” implemented by the same management that allowed it to happen.