THE Obama Administration faces a scandal over allegations of mismanagement and misconduct at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Unlike some other controversies that bedevil the administration, the V.A.’s problems are relatively simple, straightforward, and shocking — and the outrage is bipartisan.
President Obama has acknowledged the crisis. After meeting with V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki last week, he called the allegations “dishonorable” and said: “I will not stand for it — not as a commander in chief, but also not as an American.” Let’s hope he means what he says.
If one principle unites this nation, it is that veterans must be afforded the best medical care possible in recognition of their service and sacrifice. The V.A. has not always delivered on that promise; recent reports suggest that it lately has fallen far short of the ideal.
The V.A. inspector general’s office reports that 26 facilities across the nation are being investigated. There are allegations of secret waiting lists for patients, and treatment delays resulting in deaths. One of the most troubling cases involves a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans are alleged to have died waiting for treatment. V.A. staff, under instructions from administrators, are suspected of having kept secret waiting lists of patients to conceal delays in care.
Bonuses for V.A. executives who preside over an apparently dysfunctional system are another source of outrage. So far, accountability has been minimal.
The director of the Phoenix V.A. health-care system has been placed on indefinite leave pending the investigation. The V.A.’s undersecretary for health care, who was to retire later this year, has left already.
General Shinseki remains with Mr. Obama’s support, at least for now. After a distinguished military career, the four-star general would be a sad casualty of this affair if he is dismissed.
The House is working on a bill that would give VA officials more power to fire employees who are responsible for mistakes. But that is hardly an argument for keeping a Cabinet chief who may have done a poor job. Mr. Shinseki must do better if he is to stay.
The Obama Administration also must do better, especially as the President took office promising to improve the V.A. Congressional Republicans are going to make more of this issue, but it’s fair game. The best response to their challenge is not more politics, but better results.
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