A new VA internal audit found wait-list fraud at almost two-thirds of all VA facilities, and that 13% of schedulers had been trained to commit fraud as part of their work. This new audit, which is separate from the Inspector General probe of the Phoenix facility, provided the final straw that forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to offer his resignation yesterday:
Appointments’ wait times were manipulated at more than 60 percent of the Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities investigated as part of a new internal audit.
The White House-ordered audit found that schedulers faced pressure to manipulate the system and concluded there was a “systemic lack of integrity within some Veterans Health Administration facilities.”
The audit, issued as VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday, found that 64 percent of the 216 VA facilities reviewed had at least one instance where a veterans’ desired appointment date had been changed. The review found 13 percent of schedulers had received specific instructions to misrepresent wait times. …
The review also found that 7 percent to 8 percent of scheduling staff said they used alternatives to the VA’s electronic wait list, a practice that occurred in 62 percent of the facilities examined.
This President spent the last several years shrugging off scandals and massive incompetence — Benghazi, the ObamaCare rollout at HHS, Operation Fast & Furious at the Department of Justice, and James Clapper committing perjury in the Senate, just to name a few that resulted in zero firings at any level. This time, though, Obama had no choice, even though he had inexplicably issued two statements of confidence in Shinseki in the previous two weeks. Apparently no one at the White House had bothered to keep up with their own promises to clean up the VA from the 2008 campaign, and got blindsided by the massive corruption that Shinseki allowed to fester:
In other high-profile situations — involving Internal Revenue Service employees targeting Tea Party groups, Secret Service agents partying in foreign countries and the State Department response to the Benghazi consulate attacks in 2012 — Obama also resisted calls from political rivals and media pundits to remove top figures.
In some cases, Obama did not believe the agencies involved had made major transgressions, calling the lapses isolated and trumped up by his political rivals.
Even with Shinseki, Obama went to great lengths to defend the retired general, who had been injured after stepping on a land mine in Vietnam, calling him “ a good man . . .an outstanding soldier. . .a champion of our veterans.” And the president emphasized repeatedly that the problems at veterans hospitals preceded Obama’s tenure and that the specific recent examples of wrongdoing “did not surface to the level where Ric was aware or it or we were able to see it.”
But Shinseki was more exposed when influential Democrats began joining Republicans in calling for his ouster, something that did not happen to Sebelius. In her case, the White House and Democrats feared a nasty confirmation fight for a replacement at a time when Republicans were trying to exploit the health-care Web site problems for political gain heading into the midterm election cycle this fall.
By the time Sebelius had departed, the enrollment figures showed that the White House had surpassed its initial goals, blunting GOP criticism.
In Shinseki’s case, the problems inside the VA are far more intractable and will take a lot longer to fix. The latest blow to the general came Friday morning, when Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a former Veterans Affairs official who lost both of her legs while serving in combat in Iraq, urged Shinseki to resign.
“Our first priority should be the veterans, and at this point, whether Secretary Shinseki will stay or go is too much of a distraction,” Duckworth said. “I think he has to go. He certainly loves veterans, but it’s time for new leadership.”
Don’t bet on that being the final factor. The audit showing corruption at 64% of VA facilities on an initial and internal audit would have made Shinseki politically radioactive in any context. Shinseki had more than five years to take control of the VA, and the sheer scale of this systemic failure points directly to his incompetence at running the organization. It also points to Obama’s detachment from his own administration again, even on initiatives that Obama himself insists are high priorities for himself.
Next, Congress should insist on conducting its own audit of the VA, probably through GAO. Even with the scale of corruption at the VA registering this high on an internal audit, it’s an easy bet that it’ll be higher in an independent probe of all facilities.