And now, Barack Obama is under increasing pressure to fire his VA Secretary, General Eric Shinseki, because Republicans, and increasingly Democrats too, claim Shinseki should have known about the scheduling problems in Phoenix VA hospitals, and should have fixed them.
Obama and Shinseki have argued that they needed more information to understand what was going on, but the information about scheduling problems, delaying thousands of veterans from getting necessary hospital appointments, has been known, or should have been, for years.
In fact, the VA Inspector General’s report, released yesterday, on the current VA scheduling scandal, reviews the previous reports the IG’s office has provided, which outlined problems in years past, only to have those same problems continue, without the issue becoming one of national concern.
For example, in 2005, the IG’s Office reported that as many as 10,000 veterans nationwide had been left off of electronic waiting lists, because of data-entry errors, or attempts to mask delays by VA schedulers and their supervisors:
“Schedulers did not follow established procedures when selecting the type of appointment and when entering the desired appointment date into VistA. In some cases, supervisors instructed schedulers to create appointments contrary to established scheduling procedures.”After three more years, and three more reports, in 2008, the last year of the Bush presidency, the IG’s office concluded that:
“[The] VA made only limited progress in addressing the long-standing and underlying causes of problems with outpatient scheduling, accuracy of reported waiting times, and completeness of electronic waiting lists.”Then, in the Obama administration, the IG’s office continued yearly reporting on the scheduling problems at VA hospitals. These were all made during the time of Shinseki’s tenure as VA chief. And yet, in spite of all these reports, and despite explicit recommendations for what needed to be done to fix the problem, the VA under Eric Shinseki did as poorly as the VA under Shineseki’s Bush-era predecessors.
The new IG’s report concludes, among other troubling things:
“Our reviews at a growing number of VA medical facilities have thus far provided insight into the current extent of these inappropriate scheduling issues throughout the VA health care system and have confirmed that inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout VHA.”The word “systemic” is key because reportedly Obama was waiting to determine whether to fire Shinseki or not, based on the appearance of the “s”-word in the IG’s report. But, so far, Obama is doing his usual evasive act in response to rising choruses chanting the “a”-word, accountability.
One indication of just how utterly hopeless is the situation in Washington DC on so many fronts, was suggested in a tweet, made by Sam Stein (@samsteinhp), a political reporter at HuffPo.
Stein, trying to defend the notion Shinseki should not be fired, tweeted:
“I get need for accountability. But isn't there a strong argument that Shinseki's immediate resignation would be more disruptive to VA?”Too many people in Washington DC, and in the VA, “get” accountability in the way Stein does—as a dismissive, throwaway word one uses to mean they are actually in favor of the exact opposite happening.
The thing is, Shinseki should not have to be fired. He should be sufficiently ashamed of his ineptitude as a leader at VA, to offer his resignation, indeed to demand it. But again, that’s not how DC accountability works, and it sure as hell isn’t how Obama accountability works.
In a few days, possibly a few hours, we shall see if Obama acts differently this time, under the building pressure to finally hold somebody accountable for something.