Today, VA Secretary Eric Shisneki will answer questions arising from seven or more VA facilities about wait-list fraud and the lack of accountability within the organization he’s run since January 2009. When the hearing got scheduled by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) last week, the focus was on the Phoenix office, where 40 veterans died while waiting for medical assistance. A whistleblower alleged that the facility had faked the wait-list records and then destroyed evidence afterward, creating outrage on Capitol Hill. After the hearing was demanded, six more facilities have been alleged to have conducted similar wait-list fraud.
Shinseki will find himself on the hot seat at 10 am today:
As reports of serious misconduct come in from VA hospitals across the country, lawmakers are prepared to give Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki the grilling of a lifetime on Thursday when he appears before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general who has led the VA since 2009, is prepared to tell the committee about the VA’s response so far to reports that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA Health Care system. The Phoenix facility reportedly worked to cover up patients’ long wait times by creating a secret waiting list and later destroying the evidence.
“If these allegations are true, they are completely unacceptable–to Veterans, to me, and to our dedicated VHA employees,” Shinseki’s prepared opening statement says. If they are substantiated by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG), the agency’s independent watchdog, Shinseki says that “responsible and timely action will be taken.”
Shinseki wants to deliver a message of reform, but that may take a lot of convincing. He’s been in charge for more than five years, and the wait-list metric of 14 days was established three years ago. If Shinseki had just taken over the VA after this metric was established, or if it was a long-standing metric and the fraud a relic of his predecessor’s management, then the committee might have given him more room for this kind of promise. However, the problem clearly started and continued on Shinseki’s watch, and the number of offices that allegedly conducted this kind of fraud points to at least incompetence at managing metrics, if not coordination at higher levels than just the field offices.
Can Shinseki count on Democrats to shield him from demands for accountability? Perhaps, but Shinseki shouldn’t count on it. Sanders initially defended Shinseki before getting pressured into holding the hearing, and he may still be on board. But with dozens of veterans having died while VA offices lied about their customer service, it’s going to be difficult for anyone not to demand a few heads out of this scandal. We’ll see whether Shinseki gets asked tough questions, and by whom.
CNN’s John King says Democrats are starting to get worried, and they’re not getting any comfort from Shinseki’s prepared remarks:
Jake Tapper wants to hear from veterans about their experiences in the VA:
Veterans– let me hear from you. What are your experiences with the VA? Good and bad, share your stories
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) May 15, 2014
Maybe he could use a whistleblower or two from other VA offices, too.