Saturday, May 31, 2014

I Hate The War

Melinda Henneberger (Washington Post) has written one of the most insightful pieces on the VA scandal, the Shinseki resignation and the VA culture.  The piece went up this evening and here's an excerpt:

When he put new guidelines in place requiring that veterans be seen quickly, the response was to fake the paperwork to make it look as though wait times had disappeared.
But with nothing less than the lives of our veterans at stake, how could employees do that, and why would they lie?
Nickolaus’s answer to that question is that after years of being “told to shut up or retire,” most people eventually do one or the other. “You see the dead wood and get exasperated.”Overwhelmed, she said, you despair of actually changing anything, in other words, and give up.

The next Secretary of the VA is going to have to put in the time to check and re-check what he or she has been told in response to questions.  Serious oversight will be needed.

Right now, the wait list scandal has the nation's attention.

The scandals started in 2009.  Whether it's the veterans tuition checks scandal (not being sent out), the intentional misdiagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress or any of the other scandals, the key detail is the secrecy.  The lack of transparency is ingrained and Henneberger's story gets at that with VA employees urged "to shut up or retire."

There has been no accountability in the VA.  Shinseki's resignation may be the first accountability since 2009.  The VA has been allowed to lie to Congress, they've been allowed to withhold information, they've been allowed to deny requests for named officials to testify, they've been allowed to ignore subpoenas from Congress.

This is the problem.

The current scandal results from this problem.

When there is neither accountability or transparency, you're going to have these scandals and the non-stop failures.

The next Secretary needs to address that.  US President Barack Obama needs to make clear that the VA must operate within the law -- that means recognizing that Congress exists to be a check on them as much as it exists to pass laws -- and that they must be transparent.  It should also be made clear that the VA will not be able to use two sets of lists (a real one and a fake one) or to alter results by chopping 41 days off (which the Inspector General revealed this week though the press ignored it) or disguise reality by redefining terms like "error."

The VA has been out of control for some time.  That didn't start with Shinseki, but the culture of secrecy worsened under Shinseki. If veterans are going to be served, the next Secretary must make a commitment to transparency and accountability and he or she must have the full backing of Barack on this.

It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)

The number of US service members the Dept of Defense states died in the Iraq War is [PDF format warning] 4489.

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