What, pray tell, constitutes “a whole bunch”? To hear Barack Obama tell it, one would assume that they had to bring buses to the VA to carry off the executives that his administration has fired since the exposure of the wait-list scandal three years ago. Two weeks ago at a CNN townhall hosted by Jake Tapper, Obama told an audience of veterans and their families that he’d cleaned house at the VA, emphasis mine:
DONNA COATES, WIDOW OF ARMY VETERAN: Mr. President, I stand before you today with my hopes (inaudible) was always his desire to meet you, and sadly he never got a chance. However, two years ago, (inaudible) testified in front of Congress, and we heard a lot of promises about reforms in accountability, but still, nothing has changed. In fact, the contracted doctor that misdiagnosed my husband is still treating our veterans at the same VA clinic.
My mamma’s always told me that if you stop talking about stuff and do it, then you don’t have to talk about it any longer. So when are we going to actually start holding these contracted doctors and the VA employees accountable? For it’s a difference between life and death. And families like mine, they’re tired of waiting. And the only true change that’s come since we began talking was that I am now a widow. And my family, we will never be the same.
OBAMA: Well first of all, my heart goes out to you. I heard the testimony of your husband. Bob McDonald, the head of the VA, heard that testimony, and because we can’t bring your husband back, I don’t want to in any way sugar coat the fact that there have been significant problems in the VA that have accumulated over decades. And the incidents that we saw in South Carolina, the incidents that we saw in Phoenix, I think were inexcusable, but they were also an indication that you have a system, a bureaucracy that had gotten overwhelmed, built up over time. And now when you have a lot more veterans coming home, needing treatment, even with some of the improvements that were made, there were still inexcusable wait times.
Now, we have actually made progress. And again, I don’t want to in any way pretend that we’re where we need to be. But we have in fact fired a whole bunch of people who were in charge of some of these facilities. I don’t know the particular case of this individual doctor, but you can bet, I’ll find out after this meeting. We now have a situation where about 80 percent of individuals who interact with the VA are satisfied that they’re getting timely treatment. I want that to be 100 percent, and that requires more work.
That claim piqued the curiosity of the Washington Post’s fact-checking team. Has the Obama administration fired “a whole bunch of people” at the VA? Congress gave Obama VA Secretary Robert McDonald broader latitude to do so, but despite other similar claims, little evidence of a pink-slip avalanche has emerged. Michelle Ye Hee Lee dug into this claim and came up with an entirely new definition of “a whole bunch” … three:
We asked specifically about senior executives fired under the Choice Act firing authority. The VA provided these actions, current as of Oct. 3:
- Three employees removed.
- One 15-day suspension.
- One proposed removal that was reversed.
- Three employees retired or resigned with disciplinary process pending.
- Five employees resigned in lieu of an adverse action or before their disciplinary actions took place.
- Two employees were demoted, but their demotions were reversed by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.
That means three senior executives, who fit Obama’s description of being “in charge” of the facilities, were fired after McDonald became secretary. Glynn said the Choice Act firing authority is not the only method for holding people accountable, so we asked how many people were removed with authority other than the Choice Act. We did not receive a response.
In fact, as Lee concludes, the actual number may be as low as one, or even zero:
Since Obama signed the bill into law in August 2014, the VA proposed removals or demotions of 12 to 15 senior executives under the new authority. Three to five senior executives were successfully removed. Only one senior executive’s removal was marked as “a case involving patient wait time,” but her actual firing was because of an unrelated ethics violation over accepting gifts. Five non-senior employees in leadership roles at VA medical centers were successfully removed relating to patient wait times.
Lee gives Obama four Pinocchios for this claim, but that’s the least of Obama’s problems here. The administration has been lying about firings for years now. Lee notes, for instance, that WaPo fact checkers have given McDonald the same four-Pinocchio rating twice for similar claims, and Obama himself keeps making the same phony arguments.
The most galling part of this whole story is the fact that Obama conducted this town hall specifically for veterans, knowing that this question would be among the top issues to discuss. It’s not just the fact that he and his administration keep deliberately lying about their inaction at the VA — it’s that they keep going out of their way to lie about their inaction at the VA. This was a deliberate attempt to set up veterans as stage props to further Obama’s falsehoods and to cover up his protection of the bureaucratic status quo while veterans’ lives are at stake. Everyone in this administration should be ashamed of themselves over this stunt.