For the VA, it’s ‘Groundhog Day’


If there were a poster for the argument that big government isn’t always better government, it would feature Veterans Affairs.

The agency’s dysfunction is profound, systemic and unfixable without a more enlightened approach to what sadly has become an oxymoron — government efficiency.

But before we get to the solution, let’s lay down the groundwork for the current iteration of “VA Groundhog Day.”

Two months ago, whistleblowers in Phoenix said the VA kept secret waiting lists to get federal bonus money for efficiency. Some 40 veterans, it is alleged, died on those lists waiting for care.

That sparked an outcry, and the VA launched an internal audit, the preliminary results of which were released last week.

Strangely, the Obama administration patted itself on the back for releasing the audit to the public, touting its “transparency.”

Sorry. The Obama bureaucrats will get no high-fives from me for transparency.

Truth is, the Obama administration is the least transparent in my memory. It is also the most intrusive. Obama’s administration, in fact, has become the government Nixon only dreamed about. And surveys of the White House press corps show I am not alone in this view.

That weird bit of “aren’t-we-so-transparent” puffery aside, let’s first stipulate that the woes at the VA pre-date President Barack Obama. He didn’t cause the problems.

But he did come into office vowing to fix the problems. On the campaign trail, he said he’d “make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible.”

He would fix the VA benefits bureaucracy by hiring more claims workers and converting a paper process to electronic. He’d also fully fund the VA to make it all happen.

He basically got what he wanted … and he failed horribly. The VA itself admits 23 vets (of the 40 initially claimed in Phoenix) did, in fact, die on a fake waiting list.

The president promised veterans that he’d make sure they were seen in a timely manner — inside of 14 days was the goal. That soon slipped to 30 days. And with more than 50 percent of the VA system spot-checked in this new internal report, the real wait time turns out to exceed three months.

This all happened under the president’s nose. Yet he said he learned about the Phoenix debacle on the news.

If this president had been halfway paying attention to his job, he and his people would have known years ago what the internal report revealed to them last week: His ideas were not working.

In fact, the Washington Times reported that as far back as five years ago, the Obama administration was told that reported VA wait times were inaccurate.

Yet here we sit reading about how at least 10 percent of Obama’s VA employees now admit they were instructed to — and did — falsify patient wait times.

The VA system, the report said, suffers from a “systemic lack of integrity” and it’s the fault of “an organizational leadership failure.”

That leadership failure starts with the president himself. But I think we all know that. President Obama isn’t exactly the most competent person to occupy the White House. Nor is he the most diligent.

The bigger takeaway — and in this we must give the president much credit for making it so clear — is that big government doesn’t work well.

In this, the VA system is a shining example. Look, everyone wants the agency to work — liberals, conservatives and all political gradations in between.

But it doesn’t work well. And the more money and people we pour into it, the worse it seems to work.

The answer doesn’t rest with hiring more claims workers and converting paper files to electronic, as Obama foolishly thought.

The answer is in trimming the VA system to the bare essentials needed for the specialized care of wounded warriors, and then vouchering the rest — heart, cancer, etc. — to the private sector.

The proof of this is in the Obama pudding.

If the president now wants to fix medical care for veterans, he can do it by honestly gazing at his own ideological puddle of failure.

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.