Who’s To Blame For The VA Scandal?

by Jonah Shepp

Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper call the broken veterans’ health system “a failure with many silent fathers,” including Congress, the VA leadership, and the past ten presidential administrations:

In many ways, the Obama administration is paying for the negligence of past administrations, dating all the way back to President John F. Kennedy, who authorized the decade-long use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. But it wasn’t just Kennedy. Under President Johnson, Agent Orange was the dominant chemical used during the war. President Nixon halted its use, but a long line of presidents either refused to acknowledge the damage done or failed to address it.

President Carter’s VA created the Agent Orange registry, where veterans who were worried about potential side effects could be examined. But four years later, a GAO report found that 55 percent of respondents felt that the VA’s Agent Orange examinations either weren’t thorough or they received little or no information on what long-term health impacts exposure could cause. … The government’s long-standing failure to address the damage done to veterans by Agent Orange mirrors the larger failure of the VA. It spans generations and party affiliations, and every effort to fix it comes with unintended consequences.

But Tuccille claims that the VA hospitals’ wait list problem is just what happens when you have socialized medicine:

This should surprise nobody. Canada’s government-run single-payer health system has long suffered waiting times for care. The country’s Fraser Institute estimates “the national median waiting time from specialist appointment to treatment increased from 9.3 weeks in 2010 to 9.5 weeks in 2011.”

Likewise, once famously social democratic Sweden has seen a rise in private health coverage in parallel to the state system because of long delays to receive care. “It’s quicker to get a colleague back to work if you have an operation in two weeks’ time rather than having to wait for a year,” privately insured Anna Norlander told Sveriges Radio[.] An article in The Local noted that “visitors are sometimes surprised to learn about year-long waiting times for cancer patients.”

Joan Walsh finds it pretty rich that Republicans in Congress are trying to make political hay out of the VA’s problems while doing nothing to fix them:

There’s real trouble at the VA, but there’s bigger trouble for the Republican Party, which purports to love veterans but does little to help them. Thom Hartman recently ran down the list of pro-veteran measures the GOP has blocked. Earlier this year Senate Republicans filibustered a bill to boost VA funding by $21 billion and restore military pensions cut in the Murray-Ryan budget deal. They opposed President Obama’s $1 billion jobs bill to put unemployed vets to work in 2012. They’ve killed bills to help homeless veterans and promote vets’ entrepreneurship.

And in the current crisis, there’s yet to be a genuine GOP answer to the problems at the VA, beyond anti-Obama grandstanding. Do they want to voucherize veterans’ health care, like they do Medicare? Abolish the VA entirely? “Privatize” it, whatever that would mean?

John Dickerson also asks, “Does anyone have faith that this outrage will be answered by serious action?”

One primary reason to despair is that we’re already living at peak outrage. Fake umbrage taking and outrage production are our most plentiful political products, not legislation and certainly not interesting solutions to complicated issues. We are in a new political season, too—that means an extra dose of hot, high stakes outrage over the slightest thing that might move votes. How does something get recognized as beyond the pale when we live beyond the pale?

What makes the VA scandal different is not only that it affected people at their most desperate moment of need—and continues to affect them at subpar facilities. It’s also a failure of one of the most basic transactions government is supposed to perform: keeping a promise to those who were asked to protect our very form of government. … In this time of political purity tests, let’s require a purity test for the constant state of alarm. The next time someone turns their meter up to 11—whether it’s a politician, a pundit, or your aunt on Facebook—their outrage should be measured against what has already happened at the VA.