Acting VA Head: We need $17 billion to stop mistreating veterans

In which the agency that’s been giving millions in bonuses to people for causing and lying about the untimely deaths of veterans asks for the GDPs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Anguilla, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Equatorial Guinea combined from taxpayers to stop doing that. Super:

The Department of Veterans Affairs needs $17.6 billion in additional funds over the next three years to meet patients’ needs and fix the troubled agency’s problems, its acting director said Wednesday.

Testifying for the first time on Capitol Hill, interim VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the money would help VA medical centers decrease appointment waiting times and hire more doctors.

You perhaps won’t be surprised to find this request is a-ok with Democrats while Republicans wonder how more money is going to solve this problem when the increasing backlog and problems at the Veterans Administration correlated with a rapidly increasing budget. And, in the case of the aforementioned bonuses, more money actually caused the problems.

This almost $18 billion would come in addition to what’s in current reform packages already:

But the request divided lawmakers. Democrats, including Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, supported the appeal, while Republicans, including Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, questioned whether VA care would improve if it received additional funding.

“This sounds so similar to what we’ve heard over the years,” Johanns said, adding that the committee had routinely met previous VA requests for additional funding.

“If you can’t clean up your act, then guess what? You lose out,” he said. “I don’t think you need more billions and billions of dollars.”
lRelated VA disability claims, and costs, rising sharply

Gibson said the VA would use the $17.6 billion to hire 10,000 new clinical staff members, including 1,500 doctors. It would allocate $6 billion for infrastructure improvements, including building eight new medical facilities and leasing 77 more around the country.

The VA is not some orphaned, reviled agency that gets no funding. You can more convincingly make that argument about the IRS. It’s at least a little reviled and doesn’t have every lawmaker on the Hill jumping to give it cash, though it has more than enough to waste and none of this is any excuse to reward it for bad behavior. But the VA is perhaps the government’s No. 1 altar for bipartisan genuflection. Up until now, pretty much every person on the Hill has been happy to throw money at it, and very few are interested in policing how that money is used. The political warm fuzzies come from handing out other people’s cash and pretending it means you’ve helped people. There are far fewer warm fuzzies in making sure that actually happens. You can’t deny any funding to the VA. How heartless! Get off the VA’s back about how they’re spending money. How cold!

It’s at least arguable that the confluence of political unassailability, buckets and buckets of money, and bipartisan eagerness to dole it out without too much follow-up may have actually contributed to the toxic environment at the VA. Adding more of it doesn’t seem like the best answer unless the agency has gone a long way toward proving they can change the culture of the agency, not just its personnel and buildings.

In the meantime, just for context. The almost $18 billion we’re talking about here is about 2 and a half times the amount spent on the entire 2012 election, which liberals decry as an astronomical amount and an unconscionable stain on our process. It’s the amount at which Uber was valued in its public offering, which many called insane, despite its being an actual successful company with global aspirations that actually serves people a superior product. And, it’s slightly more than it would take you to buy all of the NBA. All its franchises.

The VA should have to prove itself on the road to redemption before it sees a penny more than what it’s already wasted on rewarding employees for letting veterans die.