Calls for the reclusive Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to resign are becoming more frequent, so, in an apparent effort to quell the criticism, he will appear before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on May 15. The focus of the hearing is expected to be on recent news reports of veterans dying because they weren't treated in a timely manner as a result of bureaucratic incompetence or mismanagement in the Phoenix VA facility. It took a call to the VA head from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who chairs the committee, to schedule Shinseki's appearance. At the outset of the hearing, Shinseki will be asked about the secret waiting lists whistle blowers have claimed were in use at some VA facilities to conceal lengthy treatment delays.
The reality is that the secret waiting list issue only skims the surface of what's wrong at VA. Shinseki has stubbornly refused for nearly two years to answer rapidly proliferating questions about treatment delays, benefits backlogs and a host of other serious issues raised by the Washington Examiner's Mark Flatten and the Center for Investigative Reporting's Aaron Glantz. Their reporting has often been echoed by veterans groups like the American Legion and Concerned Veterans for America. In addition, the Government Accountability Office and the VA inspector general have issued multiple reports describing major problems at VA in recent years.
|Shinseki should be confronted with the fact the Phoenix deaths may well be only a small sample of a much wider problem.|
Worst of all, Shinseki and his senior management team at VA have refused to give straight or timely answers to members of Congress. On the rare occasions when they have responded to congressional inquiries, they have too often given evasive, incomplete or misleading answers. Things have gotten so bad in this regard that the House Committee on Veterans Affairs chaired by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., voted unanimously last week to subpoena documents from the department concerning treatment delays and patient deaths at VA facilities. Miller's committee has been probing those issues for more than a year.
Shinseki should be confronted with the fact the Phoenix deaths may well be only a small sample of a much wider problem. This is because an estimated 1.5 million medical orders were unilaterally cancelled by VA bureaucrats without any evidence that the patients ever got the care or treatment they needed. As Flatten reported May 1, officials with VA “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 April 2014, the backlog of what the agency calls 'unresolved consults' was down to about 450,000. What happened to other 1.5 million appointments is something that no one, including top officials at the veterans' agency, can answer.”
Shinseki is the longest-serving VA chief ever and the department’s budget is the most generous in its history. The deplorable state of affairs at VA is not a result of too little time or money, but of inadequate will and competence. Shinseki’s silence and impotence must end.