It should be quite clear by now that the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs needs a drastic change. About a year ago when we learned that various officials had been gaming the system in order to preserve their own performance bonuses and give the appearance that veterans were getting timely care. The practice was widespread and many were complicit as veterans died and suffered in silence without the medical treatment they were promised.
Since then, a great many other problems in the agency have been revealed, including cover-ups of lethal infections at VA facilities, hospitals that consume resources and serve no patients, and pill mills.
The Washington Examiner’s Luke Rosiak recently reported on how one patient died. It occurred after a doctor at a VA facility in Puerto Rico performed an unnecessary procedure without consulting the patient’s primary physician. The doctor was subsequently given a slap on the wrist and then promoted. As it happens, he may have performed the procedure in order to help his wife, a medical trainee whom he was supervising, gain the experience.
Unfortunately, this scandal in Puerto Rico has now escalated further. Incensed by Rosiak’s reporting, the hospital’s managers have circulated a notice threatening employees with $20,000 fines under federal law if they share documents that reveal VA wrongdoing to outsiders. At the same time, the hospital’s managers have penned a memo in an effort to plug the leaks — or as they put it, “restore confidentiality to [Quality Management] activities” — by enlisting the help of the VA inspector general, who is charged with rooting out bureaucratic wrongdoing, to root out Rosiak’s sources.
An agency as rotten as today’s VA should open its shutters and welcome an opportunity to clear the air, to regain the trust of a public that has very few reasons to trust it. Unfortunately, VA bureaucrats have a very different idea about what they should be doing. They continue to resist transparency, retaliate against and threaten whistleblowers, engage in cover-ups, and make war on the taxpaying public from their comfortable, high-salary trenches. Instead of using transparency and accountability to address the problems in their agency, they act as though transparency and accountability are the real problems. To this day, only eight VA employees have lost their jobs over what happened.
House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller has introduced an important bill — the VA Accountability Act — which would give Obama’s new VA secretary, Robert McDonald, the power to fire corrupt and incompetent managers. He has also introduced the Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act, which protects employees who do the right thing. Congress should pass both bills and Obama should sign them. They owe no less to America’s veterans.