Veterans Affairs Secretary Says He’s ‘Mad as Hell’ About Incompetence at VA Hospitals

Eric Shinseki testified before a Senate hearing about reports of long wait times across the country.

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki (left) and Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel testify before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee about wait times veterans face to get medical care on May 15.
National Journal
Marina Koren
May 15, 2014, 7:20 a.m.

Mem­bers of Con­gress are not happy with the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment right now. And the man who runs it says he isn’t either.

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­ret­ary Eric Shin­seki test­i­fied be­fore the Sen­ate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Thursday morn­ing about re­ports that at least 40 vet­er­ans died while wait­ing for med­ic­al care at a Phoenix VA hos­pit­al, and that fa­cil­it­ies across the coun­try use secret lists to mask long wait­ing peri­ods for doc­tors’ ap­point­ments.

“Any al­leg­a­tion, any ad­verse in­cid­ents like this, makes me mad as hell,” Shin­seki told the com­mit­tee. “I could use stronger lan­guage here, Mr. Chair­man, but in de­fer­ence to the com­mit­tee, I won’t.”

Op­er­a­tion­al dys­func­tion at the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment — which switched to a com­puter fil­ing sys­tem just last year — is not new. It has has long been cri­ti­cized for its massive back­log of re­cords and its long wait­ing peri­ods for med­ic­al ap­point­ments. More than 300,000 claims to the de­part­ment have been pending for 125 days or more.

The Of­fice of the In­spect­or Gen­er­al has opened an in­de­pend­ent in­vest­ig­a­tion at the cen­ter in Phoenix. If the al­leg­a­tions are found to be true, Shin­seki said, “re­spons­ible and timely ac­tion will be taken.”

Sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress have called for Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion in the wake of re­cent re­ports of treat­ment delays. So has the Amer­ic­an Le­gion, one of the coun­try’s most in­flu­en­tial vet­er­ans’ or­gan­iz­a­tions.

Some law­makers are so frus­trated that Sen. John Mc­Cain, who is not a mem­ber of the Sen­ate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, asked to ad­dress the hear­ing pan­el­ists, in­clud­ing Shin­seki, on Thursday morn­ing.

“My fel­low vet­er­ans can­not wait the many months it might take to com­plete the re­port,” the Re­pub­lic­an from Ari­zona said of the in­de­pend­ent in­vest­ig­a­tion. “They need an­swers, ac­count­ab­il­ity, and lead­er­ship from this ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­gress now. Clearly, the VA is suf­fer­ing from sys­tem­ic prob­lems in its cul­ture that re­quires strong-minded lead­er­ship and ac­count­ab­il­ity to ad­dress.”

Oth­ers wondered why the de­part­ment has not fired any vet­er­ans af­fairs em­ploy­ees over re­ports of mis­man­age­ment, but Shin­seki could not provide in­form­a­tion about em­ploy­ment ter­min­a­tion. 

“I do want an an­swer, be­cause this to me is a fun­da­ment­al is­sue,” Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich of Alaska said. “As a former may­or, we would fire them. They would be gone.”

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
30 minutes ago
NATIONAL JOURNAL AFTER DARK

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Source:
STATE VS. FEDERAL
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
30 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
30 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
30 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”

Source:
×