Once we understand the V.A., we need to determine the extent of the problem and the extent of dishonesty about the problem. It is clear that there is significant dishonesty in both of the two major components of the V.A., the Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA).
It is also clear that there has long been extensive and willful ignorance at the highest levels of the V.A., including the level of Secretary. The V.A. has often suffered from the tendency of former generals serving in the V.A. to assume that their subordinates will tell them the truth, just as subordinate officers did. We cannot trust, however, the internal investigations of the V.A. Inspector General to uncover the true extent of the dishonesty.
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Are 10 percent or 90 percent of the VBA Regional Officers (VARO) deliberately destroying or losing folders and claim forms to avoid work? It is probably somewhere in between. Are 10 percent or 90 percent of VAMCs falsifying records of time to schedule appointments? In which VAROs is this primarily in scheduling initial appointments? In which VAMCs is it primarily in scheduling part-time specialists?
All of these questions need to be answered by an independent investigation, able and willing to expose criminals. A bill, long urged by veterans’ organizations, to make it easier to fire V.A. bureaucrats has finally passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate. Another pending bill, not yet passed by either house, would allow all claims not ruled on for 120 days.
While greater reliance on private resources will help, this avenue alone cannot solve the whole problem. A thorough housecleaning is needed. The proportion of veterans in the V.A. staff is far too low. The overall structure of veterans’ benefits needs reform. Most V.A. employees are union members, and the union protection of bad employees needs to end.
The V.A. has approximately 320,000 employees. This workforce is permeated with a bureaucratic mentality that has to be replaced with an attitude of service. This is not going to be easy or quick.
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