By Pete Hegseth
For the past five weeks, America has heard testimony from courageous whistleblowers, seen media exposés, and now has proof from the acting Inspector General's (IG) report -- all of it pointing to one central and unfortunate truth: the Department of Veterans Affairs is a dysfunctional, corrupt, and severely mismanaged department that is failing America’s veterans.
The Twitter-sphere has aptly dubbed it the #VAscandal. But at this point, it’s no longer a scandal—it’s a national disgrace of the highest order. The release of Wednesday's preliminary IG report on the Phoenix VA confirms our worst fears and deepest held beliefs—that delayed medical care and manipulating records is “systemic throughout” VA.
According to the report, Phoenix VA officially stated that veterans were waiting 24 days on average for care at their facility but they were actually waiting 115 days. The names of 1,700 waiting veterans at the Phoenix VA simply vanished, as if they never existed. Moreover, the IG has expanded the investigation to 42 VA facilities, not just the previously reported 26—underscoring an even more poignant hashtag: #NotJustPhoenix. The IG report goes on for pages upon pages with similar outrageous findings.
Bottom line: VA lied. Veterans died. And now it’s time for heads to roll and Congress to step up.
Just one week ago, the push for greater accountability at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was gaining steam. With more facts emerging, and before this IG report, the House of Representatives passed the VA Management Accountability Act (H.R. 4031) as a first step toward reform at the dysfunctional department.
But now that good start is being jeopardized by a lack of action in the Senate, owing to a cynical political game on the part of the Obama administration and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. A cynical game that, in light of today’s findings, should have every red-blooded American up in arms.
The bipartisan House vote for H.R. 4031 was stunningly lopsided, something we rarely see in today’s gridlocked Washington. The bill passed 390-33, with 160 Democrats and even Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voting in favor of more accountability at the VA.
The support for the VA Management Accountability also stems from the bill’s directness, clarity and simplicity. Unlike the typical incomprehensible mishmash of logrolling and favor-seeking we see in most legislative fixes these days, H.R. 4031 is under 3 pages long, and entails a simple common-sense reform: it gives the VA secretary the authority to remove and replace executives who fail to perform. Period.
So after such a remarkable bipartisan endorsement from the House, what happens in the Senate?