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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Where’s the VA’s sense of urgency?

Telegraph Editorial

In the past week or so, President Barack Obama has spoken to a gathering of the nation’s business leaders, addressed a gathering of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, used his weekly radio address to voice his frustrations with Congress and called attention to the problem of Chinese cyber attacks on U.S. companies. Then he went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – the classic “can’t get there from here” site – to talk about tourism.

That the president spoke out about such a wide range of issues during that time made his silence on the festering Veterans Affairs scandal all the more striking, as if he was intentionally ducking the topic. ...

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In the past week or so, President Barack Obama has spoken to a gathering of the nation’s business leaders, addressed a gathering of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, used his weekly radio address to voice his frustrations with Congress and called attention to the problem of Chinese cyber attacks on U.S. companies. Then he went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – the classic “can’t get there from here” site – to talk about tourism.

That the president spoke out about such a wide range of issues during that time made his silence on the festering Veterans Affairs scandal all the more striking, as if he was intentionally ducking the topic.

With Memorial Day upon us, the Commander in Chief finally addressed the VA matter on Wednesday. His critics will make the argument that he said too little and waited too long. They may have a point, but at least he broke his silence.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks because of reports that the agency failed some of the veterans entrusted to its care by failing to schedule medical appointments in a timely fashion. As many as 40 veterans may have died after they were kept waiting at a VA hospital in Phoenix, according to CNN.

Even more disturbing, however, are reports that VA officials may have falsified their accountability reports and kept two sets of records – one set showing wait times that were in compliance with VA standards, and another set showing the real, longer wait times that may have put some veterans in jeopardy and cost others their lives. The latter set of records were not shared with higher-ups, according a doctor at the Phoenix hospital. Record-keeping issues have also been reported at 26 other VA hospitals in the nation and may be part of a larger issue – a deliberate intent on the part of hospital officials to deceive.

“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period,” the president said Wednesday, after meeting with Shinseki.

We only hope the president’s apparent leisurely handling of the issue doesn’t set the pace for the a casual handling of the matter going forward. We take it as a good sign that the president dispatched Rob Nabors, the White House deputy chief of staff, to Phoenix on a fact-finding mission, but we hope he brings a much-needed sense of urgency to the case, without being hasty.

The president went on to say that people will be punished if the allegations are proven, which is as it should be. There have been repeated calls for the president to fire the VA secretary, and Mr. Obama seemed mighty close to reaching that conclusion himself this week, though it’s not clear that a firing would fix the problem.

Perhaps the agency would benefit from fresh leadership, but what is really needed, it seems, is timely attention from the top and a commitment to straighten out a vast operation with a proposed 2015 budget in excess of $160 billion.

The important thing is not – as some Republicans no doubt believe – that the VA scandal can be used as an issue to club Democrats over the head in the midterm elections. The critical point is that a system with problems that date back to the last century gets the attention it needs to be able to properly care for some of our country’s most revered – and deserving – citizens.