The Veterans Affairs scandal looks worse every day, and it’s reflecting more and more badly on two individuals all the time.
The two, of course, are VA Secretary Erik Shinseki and President Barack Obama.
It’s got to be criminal, doesn’t it, when 1,700 veterans are placed on unofficial waiting lists for primary care appointments to conceal the fact that they were not going to get in to see a doctor within 30 days — the VA’s stated goal?
And why were officials at the Phoenix VA so eager to conceal the true time lags between requests for appointments and actually getting in to see a doctor? So they would remain eligible for workplace awards and pay raises.
It makes me want to cry and scream at the same time.
Oh, and Shinseki, he’s mad, too. Remember?
“Any allegation, any adverse incident like this makes me mad as hell,” he told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee two weeks ago.
His committee performance prompted the “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to say, “Your ‘mad-as-hell’ face looks a lot like your ‘oh-we’re-out-of-orange-juice face.’ ”
(If you want to see Shinseki’s sterling performance before the Veterans Affairs Committee, click here.)
This is a guy — a retired, four-star general — who has headed the VA for five years and apparently has learned little or nothing about the inside workings of his department. You can only conclude that he hasn’t been holding his top administrators accountable, and, in turn, they haven’t held lower-level employees accountable.
It starts and ends at the top. And it’s clear that this guy’s continued time as VA secretary should be measured in minutes or hours, not days or weeks. (I hope he’s out by the time this goes to press.)
As for Obama…he is almost equally accountable because he appointed and kept in place a secretary whose department was unraveling.
When he was a candidate in 2008 and after he was inaugurated, Obama sure talked a good game about the importance of medical care for veterans. Here’s what he said on March 19, 2009.
For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren’t nearly enough. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It is a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end.
But we know that for too long, we have fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need. Too many veterans don’t receive the support that they have earned.
Too many who once wore our nation’s uniform now sleep in our nation’s streets.
Currently, there is no comprehensive system in place that allows for a streamlined transition of health records between DOD and the VA. And that results in extraordinary hardship for a [sic] awful lot of veterans, who end up finding their records lost, unable to get their benefits processed in a timely fashion.
I can’t tell you how many stories that I heard during the course of the last several years, first as a United States senator and then as a candidate, about veterans who were finding it almost impossible to get the benefits that they had earned despite the fact that their disabilities or their needs were evident for all to see.
Sounds great, uplifting, like a lot of other stuff in Obama’s speeches. But apparently there was little or no conviction or intent to follow through. Otherwise, Obama would have been keeping close tabs on Shinseki and the VA, and he wouldn’t have been so surprised by news of the scandal.
I want to qualify this criticism of Obama by saying I’m glad he’s the president, instead of John McCain or Mitt Romney. On the matter of veterans care, McCain probably would have been a lot more diligent than Obama has been, but I don’t think we would have seen anything different with Romney. I don’t think he has an empathetic bone in his body.
And, overall, while Obama hasn’t been able to get much done through the legislative route, he has been able — mostly through regulations and administrative policy — to improve the lot of the poor and keep wealthy individuals and big corporations from constantly getting their way.
We saw Obama stick with Kathleen Sebelius and Health and Human Service secretary long after the Affordable Care Act sign-up debacle. With Shinseki, Obama probably will try to delay making a change so that, once again, the mud will have a little time to dry before it splatters on his face.
To me, the VA situation is a more serious setback for Obama than the botched insurance sign-ups. That was a first-time, one-time challenge that any administrator could have blown. But this, obviously, is one of those situations where the foundation of a major department was crumbling right under the noses of people who should have known better and chose to avert their eyes — some of them, anyway.
For the first time, I’m thinking Republicans could take control of the Senate at the November elections. I don’t like it; I think it would be awful. But, man, some high-level people in the Obama administration have dropped the ball pretty badly in recent years. A lot of older, angry white people will be going to the polls in November.
As I’ve said before, demographics are working strongly against the Republicans long term, but in the short term, the people who are genuinely mad — mainly those older white folks — are probably going to hold sway.
News on the Donald and Shelly Sterling: The New York Times is reporting tonight that former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has agreed to pay $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.
The Times’ story said: “The Sterlings’ are said to be expediting the sale of the team before next week so they can be part of the negotiation process and, more important, reduce a massive capital gains tax liability.”
“The Street” reported that the NBA Board of Governors is set to meet Tuesday and vote on whether both Sterlings’ ownership interests could be terminated. If 75% of the league’s owners voted to rescind the Sterlings’ ownership group, the Sterlings could no longer control the sale or the terms, although they would be entitled to the proceeds.
Do you know how much Sterling paid for the team in 1981?
The Street said that if the NBA took control of the sale, the Sterlings would be responsible for paying a capital gains tax of 33.3% on the difference between $2 billion and $13.5 million. But if the Sterlings are in control of the negotiations, they might be able to reduce their potential tax liability by $500 million or more when the sale is finalized.
As we all know, sometimes life just isn’t fair. This is a classic case. Donald Sterling is clearly a racist, but he’s going to make hundreds of millions of dollars on this transaction. His wife, who will likely divorce him, will also make several hundred million dollars. (She is co-owner.)
…A wise, now-deceased uncle once told me: Expect the unexpected. How true, eh?