Military Wire: Federal Department of Veterans Affairs listed as ‘high-risk’

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Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler

Bob McDonald, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who replaced retired General Eric Shinseki after he faced continued criticism of agency failures, is facing an uphill battle after the recently released Government Accountability Office report.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the nation’s largest health care systems, has been listed as a high-risk federal program by Congressional auditors for the first time in its history.

According to the GAO report obtained by USA TODAY, “problems with poor health care, delayed doctor appointments and leadership accountability and oversight persist.”

The GAO report also cites the falsified appointment records, and complains about a shoddy evaluation process for doctors who make mistakes, the reliance on data submitted by hospitals under review, handing out undeserved bonuses, chronically inadequate computer systems and poor training of staff.

The GAO said it keeps issuing audits identifying problems — eight just last year — but more than 100 areas of mismanagement remain unresolved, according to the report.

Some have suggested that these problems can only be addressed through an increased budget that will allow for more staff and improved technology, but Congress has increased funding by 85 percent since 2002. And yet, problems still persist.

VA spokesman James Hutton, in a response, said the department is committed to becoming a “model agency” and example for other government programs to emulate.

“In many ways, (the VA health care system) is on the cutting edge of the industry. In other areas, we realize we need to make significant improvements,” Hutton said.

Federal agencies or programs are chosen for the high-risk list by the GAO based on such factors as health or safety, delivery of services and incidents of injury or loss of life.

“These risks to the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, quality and safety of veterans’ health care, along with persistent weaknesses we have identified in recent years, raises serious concerns about VA’s management and oversight of its health care system,” the report said. “VA health care is a high-risk area.”

Bob McDonald, a graduate of West Point (class of ’75) and prior CEO of Proctor & Gamble, has vowed to move aggressively to revamp the VA. Only on the job approximately six months, he has launched the MyVA initiative last September that is devoted to improving customer service for veterans.

For some, the improvements are not coming fast enough. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a congressman from Colorado and a combat veteran who served in both Iraq wars, challenged Secretary McDonald and accused him of “glossing over” the problems that still plague services for veterans. McDonald has come under criticism for not firing those responsible for the scandal despite new rules passed by Congress making it easier to dismiss employees.

Coffman went on to state he thinks McDonald “will not have made a difference in changing the culture” by the end of the Obama administration.

Bottom line: The Federal VA is a prime example of what can go wrong in a single-payer health care system. Unfortunately, at the expense of many veterans and their dependents, the VA is too big…and failing.

By Michael Schindler

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Oeration Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

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