“VA awareness is losing traction. Well played, Mr. President,” said disabled Iraq War veteran Matt James. Many other veterans have also noticed VA scandal awareness is slipping from the public consciousness. Veterans like Mr. James are taking similar note as to just how fickle our news cycle is and of the apparent 8-second attention span held by the news media when it comes to VA accountability for veterans.
At issue here is VA’s intentional withholding of health care benefits from over 100,000 deserving veterans. Many VA medical care facilities have been linked to the scandal following the exposure of the scandal by CNN last April. At the time, we all thought there was a “secret wait list” at the core of the scandal. We now know the Wait List Scandal was anything but secret.
In response to the scandal, President Obama has deployed his White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, to Phoenix to oversee the investigation of the facility by certain VA staff prior to their lackluster report back to Congress last week. With Secretary Shinseki’s resignation, Mr. Nabors will now stay on board with VA during the transition to its Acting Secretary, Sloan Gibson. Mr. Nabors has a reputation for being a dealmaker and quite adept at cleaning up political messes not unlike the VA Wait List Scandal currently before us.
Now that Secretary Shinseki has stepped down, and the Burgdahl Scandal has spun up, most major news media seemingly have forgotten all about covering the currently existing VA scandals, including the Wait List Scandal. On the night of VA’s announcement of the 100,000 veterans affected by the scandal, even Fox News spent what seemed like an extraordinary amount of time spinning up the Burgdahl issue.
But the dwindling amount of attention on real scandals like the Wait List Scandal has not gone unnoticed. Facebook commentaries have popped up from veterans and ordinary Americans who have noticed the decisive shift now that Secretary Shinseki has stepped down.
Headlines are now coming in that discuss the lack of headlines related to the very real scandals that have impacted veterans across the country.
For example, one correspondent wrote an article titled, Dr. Manny: Don’t let Bergdahl’s rescue distract from the VA scandal. It seemed inevitable that the steam would run down on the scandal coverage. With Shinseki gone, there was no one figurehead left to really focus on within VA.
Instead, we were left with a 300,000-employee agency and a bunch of new leaders no one had heard of – Acting Deputy Director of This – Acting Secretary of That. And, in line with what I (i.e. Benjamin Krause) predicted 9 JUN, in MMQB: With Shinseki Resignation, VA evades ‘Feet to Fire’ Treatment, the VA behemoth looks like it may evade yet another opportunity to increase truth and accountability regarding criminal charges despite the explosive scope of the scandal.
The change in focus starting mid-JUN is certainly benefiting some Democratic incumbents who were facing hard headlines due to the VA scandals. The negative press about VA facilities across the country was causing Democrats to lose ground with their respective electorate after 8 weeks of the Wait List Scandal.
In an election year, no party can have that kind of press across the board and hope to succeed in November. For example, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) has seen a lot of heat during his re-election campaign in his home state of Maine. He is a senior Representative and longtime participant in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
This election cycle, he was receiving a ton of heat from challengers on the Wait List Scandal. According to one article, After Veterans Affairs Secretary Resigns, Opponents Say Mike Michaud Should Have Known, Republican challengers were clearly hoping the scandal would move Rep. Michaud closer to retirement – so long as the headlines kept pouring in.
Rep. Michaud was not alone. Democrat politicians across the country were feeling the pressure due to coverage of the Wait List Scandal. That is, until the national spotlight moved from a real scandal to one that has the appearance of being less serious. I am specifically referencing the new Bergdahl Scandal that has stolen headlines from VA truth seekers; this is a scandal created by the direct actions of the White House.
Due to the Bergdahl Scandal, one can look at most major news websites across the country and struggle to find even one mention of further investigations into the Wait List Scandal on the front page. Or the second page. Or the third page. In response to the reality before us, I repeat the insightful observation of Mr. James above, “VA awareness is losing traction. Well played, Mr. President.” Well played indeed [sic].
Veterans facing long wait times, long distances or lack of specialty care are already eligible for medical care outside Veterans Affairs, calling into question the need for a law that allows private care, the Government Accountability Office said 18 JUN. However, there’s no way to determine whether veterans will receive timely care through private facilities because VA does not collect that data. “VA is authorized to obtain health care services from non-VA providers to help ensure that veterans are provided timely and accessible care,” said Randall Williamson, director of health care at GAO, at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.
“It is not only important to ensure that veterans will obtain timely treatment from non-VA providers but also to ensure that non-VA medical care is a reliable and cost-effective means for VA to deliver services.” Both the House and Senate passed bills that would allow veterans access to private care if they faced long waits, but the bills also provide some extras, such as money to hire providers and the ability to fire inefficient VA employees.
VA is unable to determine how sending veterans to private care could cut down wait times and costs because it does not collect data on wait times data or on all health services provided, Williamson said. A 2013 report found VA does not collect data to determine that information, and a 2014 report found “non-compliance” at four VA facilities because they did not provide emergency care to veterans, as required by law, even if the care was not for service-connected issues. About 20%of claims were denied inappropriately, GAO found.
Veterans also do not know they are eligible for that care. GAO made numerous recommendations to fix the problems, and VA agreed to the recommendations, but they have yet to be implemented, Williamson said. Philip Matkovsky, assistant deputy under secretary for health for administrative operations at the Veterans Health Administration at VA, apologized again for the scandal Wednesday. He agreed that VA is already authorized to send veterans to private care, adding that VA is working to improve management, oversight and delivery of non-VA care.