David Shulkin has some explaining to do

Veterans of military service ought to be asking an old cliche question about Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin: What did he know, and when did he know it?

A new inspector general report makes official what many Americans knew, that “failed leadership” at the VA during the Obama administration put some veterans in agency hospitals at risk, including here in the Granite State.

Shulkin was the VA’s undersecretary of health from 2015-16. He was promoted to head the agency when President Donald Trump took office.

According to the inspector general report, officials in three programs under Shulkin’s oversight knew of “serious, persistent deficiencies” during 2015-16. But the report stops short of explaining whether anyone told Shulkin of the problems, and he has said he does not recall having been notified.

We question that, because for more than a year whistleblowers have been crying foul in New Hampshire. There have been longstanding concerns within the VA system, concerns reported locally about the Manchester VA Medical Center. Finally these voices – strengthened by the blistering report by the VA inspector general – made an impact. Joining the chorus championing change were U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, both D-NH, as well as leaders of the state chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.

On Tuesday, these advocates called for the resignation of Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith, New England regional head of Veterans Administration health care. This resulted in Shulkin announcing Mayo-Smith’s retirement Wednesday.

Shulkin then tapped retired Brig. Gen. Bryan Gamble of the VA’s Orlando, Florida, medical center to reorganize three regions, including New England and Mayo-Smith’s Boston-based post. Gamble’s position will involve 23 hospitals in 12 states.

This was part of a flurry of activity. But is it too little too late? We wonder whether this is a last-ditch effort by Shulkin to preserve himself versus the VA system.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing and blame being cast, some of which we are seeing play out in a lead up to state elections. However, Shulkin must bear whatever responsibility for this as well. If he had any knowledge of the dire situations in the VA facilities, he ought to be sacked. If no one told him of the problems, those who kept the information from him should be fired. It is as simple as that.

Mayo-Smith’s retirement is only one small part of a bigger solution, but it’s a good first step.