The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

A Long History Of Ineptitude And Corruption

Posted on | May 28, 2014 | 35 Comments


While this could be a descriptor of many offices, bureaux, agencies and possibly even entire departments of the Federal Government, I’m addressing the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is still referred to by many as the Veterans Administration or simply VA. As CNN points out in this excellent article (apparently they do still have good reporters, they just don’t let them on the air) the VA has been a disastrous pile of fail ever since 1921, when Congress formed the Veterans Bureau only to see it collapse into a slough of corruption so bad that it had to be abolished in 1930 and replaced with the Veterans Administration, which also took over pensions from the Interior Department and the National Home For Disabled Veterans, this last actually comprising a number of Federally operated homes for destitute and disabled veterans.

Trouble could have been foreseen from the beginning at the VA, since its first head was retired Brigadier General Frank Hines, who had headed the scandal-plagued Veterans Bureau for seven years; he would be sacked by President Truman in 1945 after a series of news reports on shoddy care in VA hospitals*. He was replaced by General Omar Bradley, but even Bradley could make little headway with the over-centralized VA bureaucracy, and by 1946 the American Legion was calling for his head. Two years later, a government reform commission found massive waste, fraud and inefficiency in the VA, some of which was cured by decentralizing the bureaucracy; another reform commission in 1955 noted that waste and poor care persisted. The problems continued on through the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and continue to persist today.

Part of the problem is that while theoretically the VA is supposed to provide care for all veterans, in practice, it triages veterans based on whether their injuries/illnesses are combat-related (this was at the root of the Agent Orange brouhaha) and whether they can afford to pay for their own care. Another part of the problem is that the VA has arguably never had the assets to properly do its job, and while the VA budget has increased since 2008, it hasn’t kept up with the surge of elderly veterans from the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom who now comprise most of the patient load. This is also the reason why you’re seeing most of the “dying in line” cases coming out of the VA medical centers in Arizona and Florida – those states are very attractive to retirees, and so retired vets tend to flock there. You don’t hear about problems like this in Minneapolis, Washington DC and Boston, for example, because most retired vets either aren’t interested in living in climatic hellholes or simply can’t afford to live in the latter two areas due to their high costs of living. The number of Iraq/Afghanistan vets trying to fight their way through the paperwork to get their benefits is relatively small by comparison.

Megan McArdle posted a pessimistic essay yesterday which I linked to this morning, whose basic thrust is that the Obama Administration thought they could solve the VA’s ongoing problems by just throwing more money at the problem and hiring some more people, only to find that the solution just wasn’t that simple – people need to be fired and processes need to be changed, and both of these are a hell of a lot harder in the Federal government than they are on Wall Street or Silicon Valley. Instead, thanks to the executive decision to make it easier for vets to get help for PTSD and Agent Orange, the claims ratcheted up faster than the agency could deal with them (McArdle quotes a National Journal article that says Agent Orange claims ate up 37% of the VA’s claims processing resources from 2010 to 2012), so things wound up even worse off than they were before. The obvious solution, which is allowing the private sector to take some of the load off, has been fought by the American Federation of Government Employees, which has been fighting a new $9.3 billion program that encourages Medicare-eligible vets (about half the patient population) to seek care from civilian hospitals.**
Stacy’s Crazy Cousin John is often wrong, but as far as the VA is concerned, he’s right – the Veterans Health Administration needs to be stripped down to the things it does best, and hand off other medical care to private physicians. Given the current administration’s sinister ineptitude, though, I think we’ll continue seeing more veterans die in line while waiting for the VA bureaucracy to get them what they need.

*In an ironic tribute to the VA’s ongoing problems, the Chicago VA Medical Center is named for General Hines and is equally mired in scandal.
** Hat tip to The Lonely Conservative.

Shop Amazon – Deals in Health & Personal Care


  • Captain Obvious

    Not to be contrary, but unlike Minneapolis, DC, and Boston… San Diego is a very popular retirement area for vets and seems to be getting stellar reviews from it’s clientele. I’m thinking a follow-up is in order to see what they are doing right (or “wrong” in the case of skirting stupid and prohibitive regulations for the sake of their patients)

  • Wombat_socho

    Tucson also isn’t as bad as Phoenix, from what I hear, but the exceptions don’t invalidate the point.

  • M. Thompson

    The midwestern city I live in has a fairly large VA center, and a good number of the older sort, but I’m not surprised there’s an issue in the retiree heavy states.

    I’m thinking that real VA reform (and bureacratic for that matter) might require a large scale purge, or at least a reduction of the bureaucracy.

  • Wombat_socho

    This was Megan’s point: if you don’t change the people, changing the process is pointless because the people will fight hard to resist the new process. As we are seeing with the AFGE.

  • Quartermaster

    I think it was Ringo Starr that said that “Whatever the government touches, turns to crap.” Whoever said it was right.

  • Mike G.

    The problem with the VA is there is too many bureaucrats and not enough doctors and nurses. But there are also a lot of volunteers who work at the VA, mostly veterans.

  • RS

    My two cents: In my career, I’ve had an opportunity to visit VA hospitals and deal with the bureaucracies involved. Words like “nightmare” and “hellhole” do not adequately describe what I’ve seen. It’s unfair to blame the current Administration only. The problems are systemic and a pox on our house as Americans who ostensibly support our veterans.

  • Pelosi Schmelosi

    I hate to change the subject but….5 years ago those of us who opposed ObamaCare pointed to the VA as the model of govt-run healthcare. Hate to say we told you so. Eagerly awaiting apology (sarc). Sorry it had to come to this.
    May God Bless all the Men and Women who so bravely defend the Freedoms we so often take for granted.

  • Wombat_socho

    You’re preaching to the choir – and you’re not really changing the subject, just drawing the logical conclusion.

  • Adjoran

    This fraud, which should result in at least dozens going to prison for filing false reports and accepting bonuses based on phony “improvements,” is not going to be solved by easy, quick fixes. It’s systemic – there are already 47 locations with false reporting probable, and more that may yet come out. The anti-whistleblower culture at VA is toxic to the truth: nothing short of a full housecleaning will do.

    For vets, give them all the same menu of federal employee choices the rest get, except that vets’ deductibles and co-pays are billed directly to the feds. And shut the VA the heck down. Those remaining homes it operates should be taken over by the states or private contractors.

    You cannot “reform” a culture of thievery, or an organization where a single private cardiologist treats more patients every year than EIGHT on the VA payroll.

  • Adjoran

    It was Ringo – the exact quote is “Everything the government touches turns to crap.”

  • Adjoran

    In Phoenix and San Diego (and probably everywhere), the average cardiologist in private practice treats more patients every year than eight on the VA staff. The problem isn’t staffing, it’s a flawed model.

    Sort of like ObamaCare.

  • Adjoran

    Quite so, it’s never been efficient.

    BUT Obama is the one who promised to clean it up, repeatedly, and specifically this problem of wait times, and then paid out bonuses to those who faked the numbers to look better.

  • Zohydro

    I don’t think he originally used the word “crap”…

  • Dana

    The VA scandal happened because it had to happen. In every developed nation with a single-payer system, the administrators drag out appointments and treatments to save money; there was never any reason to think that the VA wouldn’t do the same thing.

  • Pingback: Unions Try To Block Veterans From Receiving Civilian Care | The Lonely Conservative()

  • Pingback: May Rambling #2: New Zealand music | Ramblin' with Roger()

  • Pingback: Shinseki Resigned? This Changes Everything! : The Other McCain()