In Washington’s current state of gridlock, one strong point of agreement, regardless of party, is that our nation’s military veterans have earned the best care we can provide.
But as a patient care scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reaches crisis levels, it’s clear the agency charged with caring for veterans and their families is failing in its mission. It’s time for our leaders in Washington to step up and demand reform at the historically troubled department.
Members of Congress will have an opportunity to do so this week. Secretary Eric Shinseki will testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday about problems at the department, including allegations that VA officials manipulated and falsified data on patient wait times.
With the scandal growing, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) and the American Legion have called for Shinseki’s resignation — not out of hostility toward the secretary, but because we believe replacing the department’s top leader will send a clear message that no one should be above accountability. And Shinseki has a lot to answer for. In Phoenix, a VA whistleblower alleges that at least 40 veterans died while on a secret “interim” wait list for medical appointments, and there are credible allegations that VA employees attempted to destroy evidence of the secret list. Similar revelations of falsified data and corrupt record-keeping have arisen in Colorado, Texas and Wyoming.
Shinseki will likely decline to comment on the allegations of fraud at these facilities, since they are under investigation. But the secretary should take this opportunity to be forthright with Congressional overseers about the problems at the VA and how he plans to address them.
He should be prepared to answer broader questions about VA performance and administration, and to address the need for reform. Here are 10 questions veterans, their families, and taxpayers would like to see Secretary Shinseki address when he testifies Thursday:
1) Since there are now credible allegations from at least five VA facilities that employees manipulated data to make wait times appear shorter, why should we not assume this practice is common to many more, or all, VA facilities?
2) Given the allegations of manipulation of records at various VA facilities, how can we trust any data reported by the VA?
3) VA officials have received generous performance bonuses in recent years, but we are now learning that those bonuses may have been based upon fraudulent reporting. What consequences will VA employees who engaged in this fraud face?
4) You have claimed you have the managerial and administrative tools you need to enact the necessary change at the VA. Why have you not done so? Why has nobody in senior management been fired?
5) What are you doing to build a culture where people are held accountable for their mistakes?
6) There are 110 outstanding requests for information from VA for the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Why does it take so long to provide information? How can you expect problems to be fixed when you withhold information from committees that are trying to help?