VA Scandal: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Published March 25, 2015

In the year since news broke of significant problems at the Veterans Administration health program, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned and was replaced by former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald and Congress passed legislation giving veterans improved access to private health care if they cannot be seen in a reasonable time.

But some are raising concerns the measures are not enough and media outlets have not covered the story sufficiently to help encourage greater transparency and accountability.

“It is imperative that we are informed on new processes and procedures implemented by new VA leadership, as well as who has been held responsible for some of the heinous and disturbing actions that … previously occurred,” said Allen West, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis and a retired Army colonel.

West says he’s concerned the issue is fading from public attention and the public might conclude the problem has been solved.

“I am greatly concerned that the typical media news cycle and soundbite mentality of the American people has had a detrimental effect on rectifying the situation surrounding the scandal at our Veterans Administration,” West said.

West says the media has a responsibility to stay current with the story.

Problems Continue

The scandal initially focused on allegations numerous veterans had died while awaiting medical treatment, and it expanded upon the discovery the agency had manipulated official records in order to conceal problems and mismanagement.

In December 2014, a VA Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) investigation showed VA officials had been collecting bonuses after instructing workers to falsify waitlist records. Just months after the VAOIG report went public, the VA scandal no longer makes front-page headlines, although the problem of long waits for care persists.

Norman Spivie, a veteran in need of a cancer checkup, died in early January 2015 after unsuccessfully battling the VA for more than a year to get approved for a colonoscopy. He was admitted to a hospital after he collapsed in July 2014 and discovered he had colon cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes and liver. Doctors say the cancer could have been caught and treated with a timely colonoscopy.

“The corrupt culture at the VA won’t be purged overnight, and there is still a lot of work to do,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO).

White House Proposes Cuts

The White House has not only struggled to provide answers but has recently proposed cutting $10 billion in funding from the Choice Act, legislation President Barack Obama signed and touted just six months ago. The Choice Act allows veterans living in remote areas of the country to seek medical treatment closer to home without going to a VA facility.

“We can ill afford to submit our nation’s greatest treasure, its veterans, to the whims, failures, and shortcomings of bureaucrats,” West said. “These men and women fought and served. The least we can do is fight for them and uphold the promise our nation made.”

Nate Wilson (@Nateallenwilson) is an editor and analyst at the National Center for Policy Analysis.