Among other reforms, new VA secretary says agency should be more ‘veterans-centric’

On Monday, VA Secretary Robert McDonald joined CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer where he revealed a series of new reforms to his beleaguered agency. Among the first reforms McDonald touted was lopping off of heads. He noted that 35 VA administrators had already been relieved of their positions since he took over for former VA Sec. Eric Shinseki, and up to another 1,000 VA workers could face dismissal.

What’s more, McDonald revealed, the VA will reform its web presence and will replace the 12 websites that presently serve as the Department of Veterans Affairs outward face with one overarching website.

McDonald told Blitzer that the reforms he will spearhead are aimed at reforming the scandal-plagued agency’s image with veterans:

“We’re calling it ‘My-VA,’ because that’s what we want veterans to think about,” McDonald said. “We want them to think about our department as as embracing them. As giving them a warm hug.”

He added that he hopes the reformed VA will be thought of by those to which it provides care as “totally veterans-centric.”

Well, that’s a novel approach. One would suppose that an agency tasked with caring for veterans should be focused on that mission rather than, say, systematically covering up its failures to ensure that the bureaucracy avoids criticism. At least they didn’t call it a “VA with a human face.”

As of now, however, these reforms appear primarily cosmetic. As CNN reported, only one senior VA leader, central Alabama VA director James Talton, has been let go as a result of the scandals involving falsified reports and delayed treatment times for veterans.

While the VA began processes to terminate four other leaders, two of those officials, Deputy Chief Procurement Officer Susan Taylor and Dublin, Georgia VA Director John Goldman, have since retired with their pensions intact.

Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA hospital where more than 3,500 veterans were confirmed to have been waiting for appointments on “secret” lists, and the director of the Pittsburgh VA, Terry Gerigk Wolf, have been placed on administrative leave with pay since May and June, respectively.

McDonald has his work cut out for him. While it is a noble aim to reform the VA so that veterans believe it is at long last veterans-focused, this agency needs substantial changes. A VA that is truly responsive to the needs of veterans will be one that is no longer an entrenched, Leviathan bureaucracy. Until serious VA reform is engaged on the legislative level, “My VA” is probably going to be the same VA which provided substandard care that reportedly resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 vets over the last decade.