Forum Center: VA’s secret list allegations will certainly create more lists
By Alex Culpepper
The federal government began setting up hospitals for America’s veterans in the early 1800s. They were intended as a way to help volunteer soldiers who suffered casualties during wars. Dayton was one of the first cities to have one of these “soldiers’ homes,” and it grew to become the largest in the nation by the 1880s. It’s an important historical site. A Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital is there today, run by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs – and that department continues to make history.
The new chapter in VA history began last month when CNN reported at least 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system. Other VA facilities across the country have also brought allegations of similar issues, and now the VA leadership has a big problem. This impending “waiting list” scandal centers on alleged bogus patient waiting lists and records, which indicated all was well at a Phoenix hospital, when apparently all was not well.
The VA hospitals are required to treat patients within a 14-30 day window, but claims are some waited months and died of various causes before they could reach their appointments. Supposedly, what VA staff did was enter appointments in a computer and make a printout. The electronic appointment was deleted and the information on the printout was placed on a “secret electronic list.” The paper copy was then shredded. Patients waited and remained on that secret list until 14 days before their appointment dates, and then a false record of the appointment appeared as an official one to show as a record for federal oversight officials.
This story has many people outraged, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki had people coming after him from all directions after news broke about the VA’s waiting list trouble. The call for his resignation has come from veterans’ groups, politicians and a host of others. As of now, Shinseki says he will not resign and intends on finishing his mission. Only the president can force him to step down.
For those who want him out, the rationale is simple. The alleged problems at the VA hospitals are a reflection of his leadership. They argue these accounts, if true, are at least evidence of unethical actions, and some think they might be criminal. They further say what’s happening at the VA hospitals is either failure and incompetence or downright negligence – and the person who should answer for it is Secretary Shinseki.
So far, the White House and some other officials are not behind Shinseki’s resignation. For one, some of his supporters believe all staff and administrators are the ones who should be the targets of this chase. After all, they say, it was the staff at hospitals who conceived and carried out the scheme, and no evidence shows the secretary called for secret waiting lists or knew about them. Supporters also say bringing in someone new right now would only make matters worse for the VA.
The Obama Administration, so far, stands behind Shinseki, and both have stated they are “madder than hell” at what they are hearing about the hospitals. However, the chorus for the secretary’s ousting will probably keep growing louder. The pro-resignation forces believe a leader is responsible for the culture of his or her department, and when the culture shows signs of sickness, the leader has to go.
Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com
Debate Forum Question of the Week:
Should Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resign?
Debate Left: Unsung heroes
By Ben Tomkins
Resignation is an overused word in politics. There’s nothing members of one political party love to do more than call for the resignation and humiliation of someone of the opposite party the second something goes wrong. In the case of Eric Shinseki, the speed with which the Republican party and two house Democrats facing tough reelections in Georgia have begun screaming bloody murder has happened so quickly one has to wonder if they’ve had time to learn anything about the VA scandal other than what’s been reported on Fox News.
This is, of course, about as effective as prayer when it comes to addressing and resolving the issues surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs, as it allows Republicans to give the impression thinking thoughts and saying them out loud is the same thing as actually engaging the somewhat quieter process of actually figuring out what the hell is going on. When human cost is involved, it makes this ridiculous and preemptively useless behavior all the more insulting to the intelligence of anyone who cares about facts and problem solving.
At the moment, the allegations levied against the Phoenix VA in question are simply that – allegations. It is asserted that at least 40 veterans passed away due to the so-called secret wait lists of overloaded VA hospitals designed by employees to shelter themselves from unrealistic administrative pressure to schedule patient visits.
This may or may not be the case, and although it’s clear at least 40 veterans have passed away, their access to medical care may or may not have been directly responsible for their cause of death. No matter how indulgent of latent pessimism or vindicating of our personal and political opinions a statement may seem, we cannot and must not give ourselves license to declare it as fact until it has been thoroughly researched and reviewed. Human life is the issue that most demands objectivity and integrity, and I will point no further than the human toll exacted by illegitimate attacks on vaccinations by militant Islam abroad and the autism movement at home.
That being said, the Obama administration is reserving judgment of Eric Shinseki until an investigation has been conducted and analyzed, and on the particular issue of the VA secret list scandal they are right to see the process through before jumping to conclusions about a man who has served our country at the lowest and highest levels of the military.
However, whether the lists and cover-up practices of VA employees exist – and at this point it appears they do – it’s not specifically a reason for Shinseki to be asked to resign anyway. The lists themselves aren’t so much a scandal as a symptom that, sadly, is bound to occur in any number of permutations when completely impossible demands are put on employees who know damn well they have no hope of achieving. It’s the age-old business culture of “if you can’t do what your boss tells you to do, either do something that looks like you did it or find a way to blame someone else.”
That kind of toxic culture is not something that occurs overnight. It’s the result of months or even years of successively higher levels of frustrated employees and management attempting to appease whoever cuts their paycheck when repeated reporting of issues is ignored. Over a long enough period of time, information simply stops filtering up the food chain, and those who are at the top may or may not be receiving accurate information.
That’s a scary proposition when it comes to the health of our war veteran population, who of all citizens are most likely to need expedient and complex heath care.
In that regard, Eric Shinseki absolutely should be held accountable for the culture of his department. Because the health of veterans is about as politically explosive as it gets, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, of all people, should bae the most proactive and insistent problems be reported, and ensure employees who do so know they are heard and action is being taken. If the culture of the Department of Veterans Affairs has reached a point where employees of hospitals are putting patients at risk by hiding the fact wait times are ridiculously long, it indicates they no longer believe bringing the problem to the attention of administration will do any good.
I repeat: that’s a scary proposition when it comes to the health of our war veteran population, who of all citizens are most likely to need expedient and complex heath care.
That’s the real question we should all be asking when we are speaking of the resignation or impugning of Eric Shinseki. Is he directly responsible for these lists existing? Probably not. More than likely, he didn’t know the lists existed at all, given his personal experience as a disabled war veteran. From a common sense standpoint, I just don’t think it’s likely he wouldn’t have flipped out if he knew about it, and that is exactly the point.
His impotence in the position of Secretary of Veterans Affairs has resulted in a business culture where nobody in the deep chain of administration below him felt they could speak up. That’s worthy of consideration for resignation.
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Debate Right: What ‘scandal’?
By Marianne Stanley
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Once again, the corporate media has decided to create a story where there is none – or at least none that merits the kind of attention and purported “outrage” we are seeing all over the “news.”
The question, “Should Shinseki resign?” is putting the cart waaaaay ahead of the horse. With only unsubstantiated allegations by unnamed sources at this time, it cannot possibly be called a “scandal.” If the very worst that can be said is some personnel at the VA have tried to make it look like veterans haven’t had to wait as long as they actually did for their first appointment and some may have died before their appointment, this whole media frenzy is bogus – and I say this as a veteran myself with friends who are well satisfied with their treatment by the VA hospitals and staff. The VA serves 6.5 million veterans each year and does an outstanding overall job.
Even in the non-VA world of doctors’ offices and hospitals, timely health care falls somewhere between unacceptable and entirely lacking in this country unless you’re one of the 1 percent with the money and clout to be served immediately. Since there is absolutely no way to tell if someone’s death could have or would have been prevented had an earlier appointment been available, we have to suspect there is some other reason behind this story.
Perhaps it’s just another way the Republican-controlled Congress can keep us all distracted from the real and very serious issues confronting our country, or maybe they are just continuing in their insistent efforts to thwart and bedevil the Obama Administration in any way they can, as the “Benghazi scandal” indicates. Otherwise, where were all these moral, outraged legislators when 200 Marines died in a terrorist attack on their barracks in Lebanon under Reagan’s watch?
We are supposed to be living among our fellow countrymen, not among the Hatfields and McCoys, out to always fight each other in a never-ending feud. We are Americans and we should be standing behind our president and all attempts to make our country stronger and better. We need better roads, better schools, better and more decent jobs, more doctors to meet the growing demand for medical care, etc. Instead, nothing is being done to benefit us in these times of growing need, with the pseudo media continuing to spit out “secret lists” and “scandals” to distract and separate us from each other.
We simply must do our own investigation on the issues these days and mightily resist our genetic impulse to believe what we hear, especially since the latter is nothing more than a carryover from better times when we could pretty much believe what we were told and lying was not endemic to our culture, as it is now. Humans are storytellers and those in power are spinning one story after another to serve their interests at the expense of ours. Let’s take a look at this with a clearer eye:
1. There is no “scandal.” Saying something doesn’t make it so. The only real scandal in this country is the harm knowingly done to millions of our citizens by conscienceless government/corporate bedfellows who have allowed banks to gut us while destroying our jobs, our economy, our middle class, our very lives.
2. Countless people die waiting for appointments with their regular docs every day or die for no apparent reason at all. The natural byproduct of living is dying.
3. Our promising, young servicemen and women are routinely and cruelly sent into harm’s way without cause in our endless “wars” in countries where they don’t belong and where they are needlessly hurt, maimed or killed year after year. That’s where the outrage should be! The VA has been overwhelmed with an endless stream of these casualties. Stop the war mentality. It’s time to help, rather than hurt, each other.
4. If it is true Shinseki ordered a quicker time for appointments in his effort to get veterans the help they need, it would follow those making appointments for an underfunded, understaffed VA system, would try to find a way to seemingly comply with the directive in order not to lose their jobs while still trying their dangdest to get veterans the earliest available appointment. But changing appointment times is not “cooking the books” as the criminal lending institutions did – without any consequence, I might add. Nobody’s God here. People trying to make things work are not irresponsible or “criminal,” but are, like most of us, doing their best. That cannot be said about the powers-that-be who are hell-bent on creating a major issue where there is none. Who among us hasn’t faced long waiting times to see a doctor? The U.S. is short more than 15,000 physicians.
We need to not be so easily misled by emotionally-loaded words. Mostly, we need to wake up and notice the puppeteers pulling our strings for their own nefarious reasons. Don’t be surprised if this “scandal” is really just the opening move in an attempt to privatize the VA for corporate interests.
Congress has sworn to serve us, and yet perpetually and predictably ignores the very serious problems afflicting our nation today. That’s where the real scandal lies.
Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.