Not unlike the public schools scandals in which teachers and administrators fudged test scores in order to get more money for themselves and their schools, the VA scandal has much the same reek—only more putrid. The VA has been paying, with taxpayer funds, salaried employees who are not doing work related to administrating to vets, but instead related to performing union work. Jillian Kay Melchior writes in NRO here that Georgia representative Phil Gingrey’s office obtained through the Freedom of Information Act the list of these taxpayer-funded union reps at VA offices around the country. “Employees across the federal government are paid full-time or part-time to perform work for their various unions, but perhaps nowhere is the practice more offensive than at the overburdened VA.”
Too many clerks have been filing fraudulent forms. The carrots for lowering wait times are bonuses and potential promotions for managers and administrators. Peggy Noonan notes in the WSJ, “What was meant to be an incentive for productivity became an incentive to lie.”
According to the VA inspector general’s report on the Phoenix VA Medical Center, with the shortage of doctors, nurses and aides, scheduling clerks dealt with Eric Shinseki’s 14-day requirement by falsifying the numbers. Furthermore, the VA’s 2014-2020 Strategic Plan reports that the workforce is swollen with mid-level managers and administrators—all aging. One-third of the VA’s 332,000 AFGE union-dominated employees, including about 50% of the department’s senior executives, are eligible for retirement. Perhaps that is another reason no one has wanted to spill the beans.
And then there is the president himself. Mr. Obama, a man of many words, promised in 2008 that he would clean up the mess at the VA that has been going on for many years. In “The VA Scandal Is a Crisis of Leadership,” Ms. Noonan asks, “Why didn’t it work? He (Obama) told it to! His background was one of privation, but as an executive he acts like a man who grew up with 10 maids. Let them do it, I’m too busy thinking.” Thinking, perhaps, not of the cheating and dysfunction within the VA, but of his own political back.
Eric Shinseki’s head has rolled, but to what end? Politicians can now sanctimoniously boast that they have done something. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, just once, from Mr. Obama and members of Congress, the buck stops here? Better yet, wouldn’t it be nice if they meant it? Obama has had six years and Congress decades to right the wrongs at the VA. What’s next? We Americans just lie down like lambs and allow the status quo to continue?