By Roger Aronoff ~
While the Veterans Administration scandal lingers over multiple years, the mainstream media continue to perpetuate the fiction of a “scandal-free” Obama administration. Reporters are loath to report anything that might reflect badly on President Obama’s reputation and legacy.
Excluding the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, there has been a virtual mainstream media blackout regarding the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recent investigation of the VA-an investigation which shows that wait time manipulation continues to be a problem for those serving veterans.
“This report proves what we’ve long known: wait-time manipulation continues at VA and the department’s wait-time rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality of veterans’ experiences,” said Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, on April 18, when a GAO study that concluded in March was made public.
Miller continued, “But given the fact that VA has successfully fired just four people for wait-time manipulation while letting the bulk of those behind its nationwide delays-in-care scandal off with no discipline or weak slaps on the wrist, I am not at all surprised these problems persist.”
As The Washington Times reported, the GAO “found that veterans waited from 22 days to 71 days from the time they requested appointments until they were actually seen by a provider. Mr. Miller said the findings were ‘significantly more than the five-day average Secretary [Bob] McDonald declared earlier this month.'”
As CNN reported in 2015, “more than 300,000 veterans died awaiting care.” As CNN reporter Drew Griffin pointed out, these aren’t even veterans who are waiting for care. “These are veterans applying for the privilege of waiting for care,” he emphasized. Yet, the VA continues to stall, target whistleblowers, and claim that nothing is wrong.
Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned after the infamous secret VA waiting lists became public. He was replaced by Secretary Robert McDonald. But McDonald’s claims of transparency have brought more of the same for veterans.
“Veterans actually served by the VA certainly aren’t being fooled, and a number of them have contacted me after reading my articles on this continuing scandal to say that things are bad, and in some cases even worse than I described,” I wrote in April of last year.
There was virtually no coverage of the April 19 hearing, where Congressional members asked the VA’s Under Secretary of Health David Shulkin about a social work secretary at the VA in Puerto Rico who regained her job after being convicted of a crime related to an armed robbery, as well as about the ongoing the discrepancy in wait times.
The employee’s “union quickly got her reinstated-despite a guilty plea-by pointing out that management’s labor relations negotiator is a registered sex offender, and the hospital’s director was once arrested and found with painkiller drugs,” wrote Luke Rosiak for The Daily Caller in March. “The incident illustrates how union-backed civil service rules that rely on precedent combine with VA’s past failures to discipline problem employees of all ranks to keep convicted criminals on its payroll.”
At the hearing last week, Shulkin initially said that it was his understanding that the employee convicted in the armed robbery case was no longer working at the VA. But on Monday, Shulkin corrected his statement from last week, which was made under oath. The correction was quietly posted on the VA website, acknowledging that she was, in fact, reinstated to her job, since her conviction was a misdemeanor, and was only for her role as the driver in the armed robbery.
It seems that if VA care could possibly get worse for veterans, it will. It turns out that VA employees have been shredding veterans’ benefit documents. “Of 155 claims-related documents, 69 were found to have been incorrectly placed in shred bins at six of the regional offices…” reported Stars and Stripes on April 16.
Yet the VA denied that this was a systemic practice. “VBA knows that every veteran’s record is important and regrets these human errors,” the VA responded, according to Stars and Stripes. “However we disagree that a fraction of a percentage error rate is indicative of a systemic issue.”
Given that the VA deals with millions of veterans each year that small percentage point could add up to a significant number of ill-served veterans.
As for wait times, the GAO reports that the VA has been using veterans’ requested appointment date as the baseline for wait time. When one veteran wanted an appointment on March 1, 2015, but was scheduled for March 3, the wait time was recorded by the VA as two days. However, this veteran had requested to be called for an initial appointment back in December 2014. The real wait time was 76 days, according to the GAO.
“… the VA inspector general found schedulers at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly ‘zeroed out’ veteran wait times and supervisors at seven of those facilities instructed them to do so,” reports USA Today.
Clearly, the VA has continued to manipulate its scheduling data so that only shorter wait times are reported-something which doesn’t pass the smell test for veterans. Yet President Obama continues to fail to hold his administration accountable to those who served.
“The VA reports for April 2016, that veterans are waiting 13 days in my district for primary care and 10 days for mental health care. When I say that in my town halls, I almost get laughed out of the room,” said Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke (TX) at the April 19 hearing.
Where is the outraged media coverage decrying the mistreatment of the veterans who have served our country? The media are sacrificing the health and welfare of these brave soldiers in order to prevent this scandal from reflecting badly on President Obama. None of the mainstream news articles has traced this scandal back to its source: a President more concerned with catering to our adversaries’ whims rather than defending America’s allies, or, it seems, our own veterans.
Instead, left-wing pundits such as Steve Benen of MSNBC warn that Republicans are working to privatize the VA. Focusing on a left-wing bogeyman, Benen’s report, although posted and updated on April 19, contains no mention of the GAO report about misleading wait times, the hearing, or the shredding of claims documents. Readers are left to wonder why, exactly, conservatives might wish to privatize the VA. After all, Benen isn’t reporting on any of the department’s problems.
We have reported, time and again that the news media ignore the biggest stories because they prove inconvenient to the left-wing agenda. While Benen writes of a conspiracy to make changes to how the VA offers care, the other half of the story is how the VA is failing veterans right now.