Spiral: Two More Offices Accused of Falsifying Records, VA Chief Refuses to Step Down

Posted: May 08, 2014 10:29 AM

The cancer is spreading -- or, more accurately, the cancer is being discovered to have spread. As we suspected would be the case. Beyond the longstanding allegations and evidence of widespread neglect and egregiously substandard care, various systems and facilities within the Veterans Affairs healthcare network have been accused of falsifying records in order to escape scrutiny and accountability for those failures. The first salvo came from a doctor who blew the whistle on the corrupt modus operandi within the Phoenix system. Top administrators there have been placed on leave. Nearly identical claims have since arisen in Colorado, and now two more apparent examples have cropped up in Texas:

A Department of Veterans Affairs scheduling clerk has accused VA officials in Austin and San Antonio of manipulating medical appointment data in an attempt to hide long wait times to see doctors and psychiatrists, the American-Statesman has learned. In communications with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a federal investigative body that protects government whistleblowers, the 40-year-old VA employee said he and others were “verbally directed by lead clerks, supervisors, and during training” to ensure that wait times at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic and the North Central Federal Clinic in San Antonio were “as close to zero days as possible.” The medical support assistant, who is seeking whistleblower protection and has been advised to remain anonymous by federal investigators, said he and other clerks achieved that by falsely logging patients’ desired appointment dates to sync with appointment openings. That made it appear there was little to no wait time, and ideally less than the department’s goal of 14 days. In reality, the clerk said, wait times for appointments could be as long as three months.

The dam has broken. The VA's endemic 'cover-up' culture is exposed. One incident can be fairly dismissed as isolated. A second begins to generate some smoke. Four and counting is a political conflagration that demands a thorough investigation and accountability; the inferno may end up bringing down Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. Two Senators have now called for his resignation, as has Senate candidate Scott Brown in New Hamsphire. The American Legion wants Shinseki gone, too -- though the VFW is being more circumspect on that question, while expressing grave concerns over what's come to light. So far. Here's Kansas Senator Jerry Moran making the case that Shinseki should lose his job:

The Obama administration -- which has become notorious for its lax commitment to accountability -- has thus far expressed confidence in Shinseki, who defiantly says he isn't going anywhere. America's sweetheart, Harry Reid, even took a brief detour from his pet obsession to go to bat for the embattled cabinet secretary:

Reid responded to the Republican complaints by saying talk of a departure is premature. ”This is the same guy that was ordered to step down [from the U.S. Army] when he said we would need more troops in Iraq. He was fired there. He is a fine man. He’s a disabled veteran from the Vietnam conflict,” Reid said. “The issue that came up in Phoenix, these are allegations and there will be a complete investigation of that that’s gone on. “Certainly it doesn’t call for the general to resign. He’s been given a tremendous burden,” Reid added. “We have millions of veterans who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Ed Morrissey fact-checks Reid's historical commentary and blows a major hole through his primary apologia on Shinseki's behalf:

Shinseki wasn’t “fired” for his advice on the Iraq War; his retirement had already been announced prior to that, although he was pointedly not asked to stick around. Reid talks about the burden that Congress imposed on Shinseki by demanding better record-keeping at the VA, but he’s been VA Secretary since January 2009, more than five years ago. Shinseki is responsible for the issues of access and wait times, and now it appears that multiple offices have been told to falsify records to comply with Congress’ mandate on wait times. If Shinseki’s not responsible for the VA’s performance and lack thereof after 5-plus years, exactly who is?

An entirely reasonable question to which Reid would likely have a ludicrous answer. I'm not going to flog the single payer point in this post, as it would feel like beating a dead horse. But that policy horse isn't dead on the Left; liberals are intent on ushering America toward a nationalized regime in which the entire system would operate like the dysfunctional, impersonal VA. This controversy might serve as a "teachable moment," as the president likes to say.