Hot Air Interview: Mike Coffman on VA Scandal

posted at 4:01 pm on May 17, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colo) is the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, and a man who has both a deep professional and personal interest in the future of our nation’s veterans. As such, it will come as no surprise that he’s been heavily involved in the ongoing investigation of the scandals plaguing the Veterans Administration in general and Secretary Eric Shinseki in particular. Congressman Coffman was nice enough to offer an interview to Hot Air this week on the subject at hand.

Before we get to the interview, a bit of background for those who are less familiar with the Congressman’s record. Coffman was born to a military family at Fort Leonard Wood and served in the Army, the Marines and the reserves. His service included combat tours in both the first Gulf War and Iraq, so he’s no stranger to the lives and challenges of our military and veterans. He has served in the Colorado state House and Senate, as well as holding the offices of State Treasurer and Secretary of State before being elected to represent the 6th District in the United States Congress.

Congressman Coffman recently launched a petition for citizens to add their voices to the call for Shinseki to resign. (You are invited to participate.) He’s also not been shy about taking to social media to make his views absolutely clear.

And with that, our interview with the Congressman.

Hot Air: Congressman Coffman, thanks for taking the time for an interview with Hot Air. I’d like to make note of your impressive military record and thank you for your service to our country. We’d like to speak to you today about the state of affairs regarding how we care for our veterans in general, and the ongoing scandal with the VA in particular. The medical care our veterans receive from the VA has long been lauded as some of the best we could hope for, but it appears that the bureaucracy administering the system is completely dysfunctional. How long has this been going on and how did we reach this point?

Mike Coffman: Military personnel, who have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, are cared for under the military health care system while those who have been separated from active duty receive their care through the Veterans Administration. Unlike in previous wars when wounded military personnel were stabilized in military hospitals only to be separated from active duty to go into the Veterans Administration for their rehabilitation, today we keep our wounded on active duty though out their rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the care at our nation’s VA hospitals has been in doubt for a long time. Secretary Shinseki has been in his position for over five years, so he bears significant responsibility for the failure of the VA culture. He has not led the bureaucracy but has been led by the bureaucracy.

H.A.: We’ve all seen the pictures on television of the stacks of cardboard boxes reaching to the ceilings, filled with the files of veterans’ claims. How much of this is a lack of modern technology and how much is administrative incompetence and malfeasance?

M.C.: No doubt, relying on a paper system slows down the process but that is simply a function of poor management and a lack of leadership in initiating the reforms necessary to move the process along faster. One of the problems is that those who do the claims tend to be generalists and I believe the process would move along faster by having specialized claims personnel who become experts in specific areas whether Gulf War Illness, Agent Orange, or PTSD.

H.A.: The news broke today that Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel was resigning following his testimony in Washington this week regarding the scandal. What, if anything, does this do to address the problem?

M.C.: Absolutely nothing since he was planning on retiring this year anyway. We need new leadership at the top in order to clean house. The rank and file of the Veterans Administration are basically dedicated to meeting the needs of our nation’s veterans, a third of which are veterans themselves, but the leadership is only interested in serving themselves and not those who served us.

H.A.: What specific steps could VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (or his replacement, should he resign) take to begin cleaning this mess up?

M.C.: The first thing that Shinseki’s replacement needs to do is to get rid of the bureaucrats who have surrounded Shinseki and have created the unacceptable culture that exists within the Department. Shinseki’s replacement should first fire all of those senior bureaucrats around him that have helped create a culture where the mission of VA leadership has been to serve themselves and not to serve those who have sacrificed so much in defense of our nation. That would send a clear message to the rank and file, most of whom want to be there to help our nation’s veterans, that what the VA has done in inexcusable.

H.A.: We’ve seen this problem at as many seven or more VA hospitals. If the problem were just at one location, you might have a rogue administrator, but at what point do we conclude this was national policy?

M.C.: It may very well have been. The problem is that we are staffing these agencies with people who are not very good at serving our veterans, but are very good at giving bonuses to each other. If they do well on paper they get a bonus. And this leads to a culture of corruption.

H.A.: We provide great service to veterans while they are in service, but it seems to fall apart in the civilian world. Should the VA be run directly by military personnel?

M.C.: Going back to Vietnam we’ve done our best for our soldiers when we keep them in direct military service all the way through the entire rehabilitation process. That’s because the military is a true meritocracy which rewards results. The federal civil service system is not. It tolerates, or possibly rewards, mediocrity if not incompetence and corruption.

H.A.: Are we already past the point where Eric Shinseki should have been fired?

M.C.: Well past. In the VA their first response is denial. Their second response is to cover up and their third response is to try to defend those responsible. Secretary Shinseki said the other day that he was “mad as hell” about this scandal. He wasn’t. He’s mad as hell that they’ve been exposed.

H.A.: Is the solution to this problem really as simple as new computers?

M.C.: The VA has been given everything they’ve asked for. On the [Armed Services] committee we’ve begged them to move forward with new technology. The fundamental problem here isn’t a lack of technology, but a lock of integrity, transparency and competency.

H.A.: Where does the committee go from here?

M.C.: We simply can not let this go. To let this go without firing Secretary Shinseki and rooting out the source of these problems would be a blanket admission that this was all okay. It would be to admit that we leave this up to those who serve not their country and our veterans, but who serve themselves. And that would lead to this sort of culture in the VA continuing, and we can’t do that.

If you agree that Shinseki has to go, be sure to sign the petition linked above.


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Coffman was born to a military family at Fort Leonard Wood

Oh poor guy. Lost in the Woods may have been nicer then though.

M.C.: The first thing that Shinseki’s replacement needs to do is to get rid of the bureaucrats who have surrounded Shinseki and have created the unacceptable culture that exists within the Department.

I hope Congressman Coffman indicates that the new “victim” hire an indefinite long term, non-perm Head for records retention, which will take all that paperwork, add it to a database (in house, no taking home) and scan every single last piece of paper to it.

This is needed like 10 years ago.

upinak on May 17, 2014 at 4:06 PM

Systemic, on purpose.

Schadenfreude on May 17, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Take the target off of shinseki’s back……………and put it on his forehead (figuratively that is). This guy and a WHOLE BUNCH of others need to go.

VegasRick on May 17, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Systemic, on purpose.

Schadenfreude on May 17, 2014 at 4:07 PM

bread and circuses.

upinak on May 17, 2014 at 4:10 PM

Systemic, on purpose.

Schadenfreude on May 17, 2014 at 4:07 PM

It’s a finger in the eye every time. “Oh, you caught one of my peeps doing something disgusting? Watch this! I’ll hire someone worse!”. obama sucks.

VegasRick on May 17, 2014 at 4:13 PM

I gotta go, I can’t stand to even read this anymore. My blood is boiling over what they have done to our finest (my dad went through this for years with the VA).

VegasRick on May 17, 2014 at 4:15 PM

Whenever someone from the Left touts ‘single payer’, please point out to them that the VA is completely run by the government and that IT is the kind of care they are advocating.

ajacksonian on May 17, 2014 at 4:21 PM

I happen to know Eric Shinseki, and there is no more an honorable man. I am sure his calm demeanor masks raging anger. He, like all Americans, is a victim of the Federal parasites that we employ, but who in fact suck our blood, lives, freedom and dignity. Government employees of every stripe have become nothing more than malicious, single agenda tyrants with all the benefits of royalty and all the honor of a cornered rapid rat. I know Eric thought that these people actually cared for their wards. But in fact they are as caring and as crooked as the IRS, ICE, ATF, FBI, EPA, and the Federal Elections Commission. I also believe President Obama himself is in disbelief re this particular scandal. Stunned at the callous behavior, I should think. Give General Shinseki the power to investigate, relieve and fire. And then indict a few dozen for manslaughter.

pat on May 17, 2014 at 4:26 PM

The federal civil service system is not. It tolerates, or possibly rewards, mediocrity if not incompetence and corruption

Wow. Straight talk?

Cleombrotus on May 17, 2014 at 4:27 PM

They’re using VistA electronic medical record system.

Why all the paper? Is that coming from physicians outside the network?

lineholder on May 17, 2014 at 4:37 PM

Coffman? This Mike Coffman? H.R. 435, the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act Mike Coffman?

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Coffman on Thursday urged GOP leadership in the new year to take up his proposal to allow undocumented immigrants with visas enlist in the military in exchange for an eventual path to citizenship.

In a letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Aurora Republican urged him to include his military bill in legislative proposals surrounding the so-called DREAMers — the estimated 1.4 million of 18-24 year olds who were brought to the United States by their undocumented parents when they were young.

Coffman’s “Military Enlistment Opportunity Act” provides a path to citizenship for undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children by their parents if they join the military.

Tell me about how this won’t be gutted by Harry Reid & Co. and then a general-purpose “everybody into the pool” act substituted. Don’t be fooled by Cantor’s apparent surrender on the other bill yesterday – one bill is all they need, and this one will be enough be converted into a container for the full amnesty fandango.

bofh on May 17, 2014 at 4:39 PM

I’ll hire someone worse!”. obama sucks.

VegasRick on May 17, 2014 at 4:13 PM

He assigned his paper-boy, no kidding, to look after the VA.

No wonder Dana’s azz is worried.

Schadenfreude on May 17, 2014 at 4:41 PM

M.C.: Going back to Vietnam we’ve done our best for our soldiers when we keep them in direct military service all the way through the entire rehabilitation process. That’s because the military is a true meritocracy which rewards results. The federal civil service system is not. It tolerates, or possibly rewards, mediocrity if not incompetence and corruption.

This is simply just not true. The civilian side of the military is mostly part of the civil service system, and those in it are no better than those in the rest of the civil service system, and in many cases worse. As to the military itself, it is now so into “affirmative action” and “diversity” that it is no longer very much merit based.

VorDaj on May 17, 2014 at 4:48 PM

pat on May 17, 2014 at 4:26 PM

Uh no, he had his chance.

upinak on May 17, 2014 at 4:53 PM

The FIRST job is to find out exactly who concocted this scheme to move appointment wait times “off the books” and cash in on bonuses for the “improvement.”

It didn’t happen spontaneously in seven or ten regional offices. People don’t come up with the exact same scam in the exact same way at the same time. This came from Washington.

Of course it wasn’t Shinseki, but sometimes it is difficult for generals to adjust from a culture where disobeying is a crime to the bureaucracy where political appointees are viewed as annoyances to be endured rather than as “the boss.” It happened on his watch, and he failed to oversee the Nomenklatura sufficiently to prevent them from enriching themselves on the lives and health of our veterans.

Adjoran on May 17, 2014 at 4:55 PM

pat on May 17, 2014 at 4:26 PM

“Raging anger” displays itself…

ladyingray on May 17, 2014 at 5:03 PM

RICO?

butch on May 17, 2014 at 5:08 PM

A few years back Congress signed a bill that gives service members 5 years of free treatment after discharge.After that 5 years they Means Test everyone.If you own a home you pay for care.Former POW’s and wounded are exempt from paying.The VA care is not free.If these patients were paying for care and got hidden in the system and died criminal charges must be brought and the lawyers should be lining up to start the mega suits.

docflash on May 17, 2014 at 5:21 PM

ObamaCare’s future…

d1carter on May 17, 2014 at 5:21 PM

I have signed the petition, just as any decent, honorable and
morally upright person who want to call him or herself a righteous
human being.

Swedish Patriot on May 17, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Hey Ho, Hey Ho, Shinseki has got to go! Yeah, very original, I know. /sarc

Mini-14 on May 17, 2014 at 5:59 PM

The American public needs to be informed ad nauseum that this is precisely the quality of care they will receive with a government run health care system. This is a model of a single payor system run by this government. And it’s a travesty. Opponents (including me) should use this as the foundation to repeal the ACA.

stephen.schurlknight on May 17, 2014 at 6:06 PM

Coffman? This Mike Coffman? H.R. 435, the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act Mike Coffman?

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Coffman on Thursday urged GOP leadership in the new year to take up his proposal to allow undocumented immigrants with visas enlist in the military in exchange for an eventual path to citizenship……..Coffman’s “Military Enlistment Opportunity Act” provides a path to citizenship for undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children by their parents if they join the military.

Yep, that’s the one.

You know what we need? A military staffed by people with no allegiance to the country or to the constitution.

LilyBart on May 17, 2014 at 6:10 PM

This really is a preview of ZeroCare™

because it is zero care.

Why is Eric Shinseki still employed?

dogsoldier on May 17, 2014 at 6:13 PM

“It’s unconscionable,” Sen. Patty Murray D-Wash., said. “It shocks me in my heart that we are treating vets like this. But it is not a surprise.”

(Check the date…)

Akzed on May 17, 2014 at 6:45 PM

You know what we need? A military staffed by people with no allegiance to the country or to the constitution.

LilyBart on May 17, 2014 at 6:10 PM

We already have a government like that.

crankyoldlady on May 17, 2014 at 7:26 PM

At the end of my military enlistment, I was launching missiles at what then was called Cape Canaveral. I had three choices: Remain in the military, go civilian or join the Civil Service.

The military personnel at the Cape were a select group that was well organized, efficient and regulated through a system that weeded out the incompetent by a standing policy of discharging anyone who was passed over for promotion a third time. The civilian contractors at the base were a true meritocracy…those who could not perform were simply fired.

But those who worked for the Air Force as ‘Civil Servants’ were for the most part incompetent, retired-in-place, and did nothing other than shuffle unnecessary paperwork. They would sit at their desks and vegetate for the required 8 hours. Fortunately, at the Cape, they had no control or command functions and could do little damage.

Uniblogger on May 18, 2014 at 9:52 AM

The Hill: Obama ‘madder than hell’ about scandal at VA, aide says

sohumm on May 18, 2014 at 1:59 PM