A sick VA: President Obama mustn’t let veterans down

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Just in time for Memorial Day, the Obama administration has a scandal over claims of mismanagement and misbehavior at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Unlike other White House controversies, the VA’s problems are simple, straightforward and shocking — and the outrage is bipartisan.

President Barack Obama has himself acknowledged the crisis. After a meeting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last week, he called the allegations “dishonorable” and said he would not stand for it. Let’s hope he means what he says.

If one principle unites the nation, it is that veterans be afforded quality medical care in recognition of their service and sacrifice. But recent reports suggest the VA has fallen far short of the ideal.

The VA inspector general’s office reported that 26 facilities across the nation are being investigated amid allegations of secret waiting lists and treatment delays resulting in deaths. Even before the latest revelations, this region had a foretaste of the scandal with the VA’s bungled response to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease — which killed six vets and sickened 16 others — in the Pittsburgh Health Care System

One of the most troubling cases involves a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital where up to 40 veterans are alleged to have died while waiting for treatment. VA staff, under instructions from administrators, are suspected of having kept secret waiting lists of patients in order to conceal delays in care.

So far accountability has been minimal. The director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Sharon Helman, has been placed on indefinite leave pending the investigation. Robert Petzel, the VA’s undersecretary for health care, who was to retire later this year, has left already. But Gen. Shinseki remains with Mr. Obama’s support, at least for now.

After a highly distinguished military career, it would be unfortunate for the four-star general to be dismissed. But that is hardly an argument to keep a Cabinet chief who may have done a poor job. He must do better if he is to stay.

The Obama administration itself must do better, especially as the president took office promising to improve the VA. 

Congressional Republicans are going to make more of this issue, but it’s fair game. The antidote to their challenge is not more politics but better results.

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