The scandal involving the systematic cover-up of wait times faced by American veterans at VA hospitals might be the most substantial controversy the Obama administration has ever faced. It is the only scandal that forced President Barack Obama to jettison a Cabinet official, and the fallout from those often deadly wait times continues to settle.
President Obama was heavily criticized in January when he traveled to the city at the heart of the scandal – Phoenix, Arizona – for a Democratic event, but refused to visit the hospital where the controversial practices involving the creation of fraudulent wait times was first discovered. Obama just couldn’t make the time to visit that hospital, despite the fact that it was located just blocks away from where he was attending a political rally.
“He won’t be far from the Phoenix VA facility, the epicenter of the VA scandal, where dozens of veterans died while waiting for basic care,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at the time. “We call on the president to offer a long-term vision for reforming the systemic problems at the VA. We’ve yet to see it.”
On Tuesday, Obama bowed to pressure and revealed that he will make a trip to the hospital at the center of the controversy.
White House officials confirmed today that Obama and VA Secretary Robert “Bob” McDonald intend to meet Friday with administrators at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center.
The president’s return to Phoenix comes just two months after he was criticized for snubbing Arizona veterans during a visit at which he previewed his housing policies.
The giant medical complex on Indian School Road at Third Street has been the focal point since April of a nationwide scandal over delayed care for veterans, falsified data and other management failures throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The symbolism associated with Obama’s visit to the VA hospital in question in January would have been just that: Symbolic. Obama’s physical presence would not have reduced a single wait time, or brought one of the soldiers who died while awaiting care back. It would, however, have demonstrated that Obama viewed the scandal involving the cover-up of a government service provider’s system-wide failures as something other than a political problem. Sadly, he probably didn’t see it as much more than a humiliation that had the capacity to jeopardize the project of ever-expanding government.
Today, with shakeups at the VA ongoing and with much of the political sting of that scandal having been neutralized, Obama has agreed to make an appearance. It’s not exactly too little, but one could make an argument that it is too late.
All that being said, it’s worth celebrating the fact that the commander-in-chief determined that it was his responsibility to make a trip to this scandal-plagued VA facility at all. The veterans who failed to receive the quality care they were due at that facility needs to know that the president cares about their condition. Hopefully, he will project that concern when he makes this visit.