The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) scandal has started to take on a life of its own, as lawmakers and veterans are sharply criticizing VA head Eric Shinseki after employees called attention to VA schemes to obscure long wait times for medical care.
The Department of Veterans Affairs warned its health clinics as early as 2010 to stop manipulating scheduling records to hide treatment delays, but the practice continued for years, according to whistleblowers.One whistleblower - Sam Foote - explained his decision to come forward in the clearest possible terms:
MY decision to become a whistle-blower after 24 years as a physician in a Veterans Affairs hospital was, at first, an easy one. I knew about patients who were dying while waiting for appointments on the V.A.’s secret schedules, and I couldn’t stay silent.While lawmakers will no doubt pounce on the scandal to score as many political points possible, they should endeavor to protect the whistleblowers who brought the scandal to light. The VA whistleblowers deserve protection from retaliation and deserve to have the issue taken seriously. Too often members of Congress forget the whistleblowers who created the situation that makes real reform politically feasible, and even politically expedient.
Shinseki tried to defend himself and rally employees this weekend:
The secretary reminded employees about actions the department is taking to address the allegations, noting that he ordered face-to-face audits of scheduling practices at all VA clinics and that the VA inspector general’s office is conducting an investigation of the allegations.Ironically, Shinseki himself spoke truth to power only to see it hidden from the public, a result that reports indicate a media-shy Shinseki was not unhappy with:
Until recently, Shinseki was best known for drawing the ire of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2003, as the war in Iraq neared, by predicting that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq and separate warring sects in the wake of a U.S. invasion. The controversial estimate, which made him a hero among Army officers and many lawmakers, wasn’t relayed through the media: Rather, it became public in Shinseki’s spare and unemotional response to a senator’s question during congressional testimony.Regardless, Shinseki should know what it takes to contradict a powerful head of a federal agency. The VA whistleblowers have stuck their necks out for the good of the veterans they serve, and the White House and VA management should - for once - switch their goal from cover-up to reform. Our veterans deserve no less.