Al Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo treated better than our vets

GITMO

Al Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo treated better than our vets

 

President Obama finally addressed the nation Wednesday about the growing scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. After meeting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki he pledged to hold folks accountable.

Thanks, Mr. President.

By now most American have heard about the VA’s infamous patient “secret wait lists” which reportedly contributed to the deaths of up to 40 veterans in the Phoenix area alone. Those patriots were American heroes who served our country proudly. Yet they were left to die waiting to see a doctor.

While the Gitmo ratio is 1.5 to 1, for America’s 9 million veterans receiving VA health care and 267,930 VA employees, the ratio is 35 to 1.

Here’s another secret the White House doesn’t want you to know about the VA. Al Qaeda detainees get better medical treatment than our veterans.

Say what?

Yes, it’s true. I know because I served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005-2009 and visited Guantanamo Bay Naval Base over 30 times during those years.

Despite the fact that Al Qaeda terrorists carried out the Sept. 11 terror attacks, killing 3,000 people in America, the admitted co-conspirators and their roughly 150 fellow jihadists at Gitmo have approximately 100 doctors, nurses and health care personnel assigned to them.

Doctors and medical personnel are at their beck and call.  Got a cold, a fever, a toothache, a tumor, chest or back pain, mental health issues, PTSD?  No problem, come right on in. Military doctors are waiting to see you.

The VA and Gitmo eligible patient-to-health care provider ratios speak volumes.

While the Gitmo ratio is 1.5 to 1, for America’s 9 million veterans receiving VA health care and 267,930 VA employees, the ratio is 35 to 1.

But beyond the Gitmo numbers, the situation at the VA is also a bright, shining example of misguided priorities and terrible mismanagement.

In late 2008, when Obama was  president-elect, he and his staff were warned not to trust the wait times reported by VA health care facilities. But instead of fixing the problem, their focus was closing Guantanamo and improving the comfort of detainees. Even though they already lived under some of the best prison conditions ever seen.

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While some who see “2008” may reflexively say, “blame Bush, not Obama” the fact is that the VA’s health system has been fatally flawed for years, regardless of who has been the president.

The VA is a classic example of big government gone wild. It is America’s second largest cabinet agency after the Defense Department. Since civil service promotions are traditionally based more on seniority than performance, and it’s near impossible to fire anyone, there’s a punch-the-clock mentality that’s pervasive. Not surprisingly, there’s little to no sense of urgency. So to instill incentives, the VA shells out high salaries and bonuses, deserved or not.

According to a Fox News report, Phoenix VA hospital paid staff up to $357,000 for doctor executives and $147,000 for nursing staff.  On average, doctors and nurses in Phoenix make just over half those figures.

Meanwhile, the gardening budget at Phoenix VA hospital was over $180,000 in 2013. The facility also spent $211,000 on interior design over the past three years.

If any government entity ever needed a complete overhaul, it’s the VA.  If it were in the private sector, it would have been shuttered long ago.

Today’s VA has near zero accountability, while labor unions fight to protect employees who aren’t doing their jobs. Shinseki and his senior staff should be the first to go.

President Obama needs to refocus his priorities. There must be less time, effort and energy caring for Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at Gitmo and much more attention put on caring for America’s veterans.

Our veterans have served the nation proudly. In many cases they were gravely wounded during their service and now will require a lifetime of medical support. Every one of them deserves better.

 

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-09. He serves as senior adviser to several Washington-based think tanks.

Quiz: How Dumb Does Obama Think We Are?

Quiz: How Dumb Does Obama Think We Are?

The Veterans Affairs policy fiasco is magnified by an insulting-public relations strategy.

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photo of Ron Fournier

May 20, 2014

News quiz: President Obama and his communications team hope that Americans are: 1) Dumb; 2) Distracted; 3) Numb to government inefficiency; 4) All of above.

Answer: 4, all of the above.

That answer along with utter incompetence are the best explanations for why the White House thought it could get away with claiming that the departure of Veterans Affairs official Robert Petzel was a step toward accountability for its scandalous treatment of war veterans.

Fact is, the department announced in 2013 that Dr. Petzel would retire this year.

“Well, Secretary Shinseki accepted Dr. Petzel’s resignation this afternoon. He was due to retire early next month, and obviously there has been a nomination made for his replacement,” White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough told CBS’s Major Garrett last week. “I leave to Rick the explanation of his decision, but there is no question that this is a termination of his job there before he was planning to go.”

No. This was neither a termination nor a housecleaning. It was a scapegoating. For all of its 21st-century savvy in the field of campaign technology, the Obama White House has repeatedly proven that its communications philosophy is stuck in the 20th century. Before the Internet gave voters instantaneous access to information, including every public utterance of the president and his team, White House strategists could hope to wear out the truth: If you said a lie enough, people might believe it.

It’s harder to BS the public these days. White House press secretary Jay Carney still tries. On Monday, he repeatedly suggested that the American Legion had praised the move.

“The American Legion said that the group looks at Petzel’s resignation as a, quote, step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA. So I think that undercuts the assertion that that is not a meaningful development.”

Carney cited the American Legion nine times during the briefing.

Unfortunately for Carney and his boss, ABC’s intrepid White House correspondent Jonathan Karl has access to the Internet. “It turns out, however, the American Legion had issued a statement dismissing the resignation as ‘business as usual,’ ” Karl wrote.

The statement calls for the removal of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, whose firing would actually be a measure of accountability.  Writes Karl:

When asked about the discrepancy, the White House pointed ABC News to articles in The Washington Times and USA Today that posted on Friday and quoted American Legion officials calling the resignation a “step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA.”

The official quoted, spokesman John Raughter, acknowledged saying it was a step forward but not much of a step.

“It was a small step,” Raughter told ABC News. “It was going to happen anyway. So, I suppose it was better than if he had stayed on the job.”

Was Raughter suggesting the problems at the VA had been addressed in a significant way?

“Not at all,” he said. “We feel there is a cultural change that needs to be made.”

In Obama’s defense, he inherited a dysfunctional VA, and the agency has been overwhelmed by veterans returning from two wars he is winding down. But he pledged to reform the VA after blasting the Bush administration in 2007. Instead of getting better, the health care bureaucracy has worsened and become corrupted. Long delays are covered up and veterans are dying while awaiting care.

It’s a policy travesty magnified by an insulting public relations strategy.

Veterans scandal risks engulfing Obama

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Veterans scandal risks engulfing Obama

Amid contrived outrage over Benghazi and the improving fortunes of its healthcare reform, the Obama administration could be facing a genuine scandal about its treatment of military veterans that has the potential to attract broad political condemnation of its competence.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is facing mounting evidence that some of the hospitals it runs have been keeping two sets of books to make it look as if they were reducing waiting times to see a doctor.

More damning, the department is investigating the claims of a whistleblower doctor in Arizona that dozens of patients at one hospital died while they were languishing on a hidden waiting list without ever being given an appointment.

Richard Griffin, the department’s acting inspector general, admitted on Thursday that its review could lead to criminal charges. In the first political casualty of the scandal, Robert Petzel, the department’s undersecretary for heath, resigned on Friday.

If the evidence of mismanagement continues to accumulate, the Obama administration will find itself not in another partisan knife-fight, but under fire from both parties in a Congress where the uniformed military is venerated.

The veterans’ healthcare scandal is, in part, one of the unintended consequences of the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq, which have created “our 9/11 generation who have served with honour in more than a decade of war,” as President Barack Obama described them on Thursday.

More than 970,000 veterans from those wars have filed disability claims, taking the total enrolled in the VA system to 8.57m by the end of 2012.

At the same time, the healthcare system is dealing with the fact that many of the 6m veterans from the Vietnam era are now reaching the age when they start to require a lot of medical services. In 2010, the administration expanded coverage to exposure from Agent Orange, the chemical used during the war in Vietnam, prompting another surge of claimants.

The result has been a constant struggle to meet new demands, despite big spending increases. The budget for the VA has risen from $73.1bn in 2006 to $153.8bn this year. However, the number of outpatient visits at its facilities has increased from 46.5m in 2002 to 83.6m in 2012 “I am amazed this .is still happening, given the big increase in resources that the department has received,” said Phillip Carter, a former army officer who researches veterans’ issues at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

I am amazed this is still happening, given the big increase in resources that the department has received– Phillip Carter, Center for a New American Security

The VA, which runs 152 hospitals and 817 outpatient clinics, has long suffered from delays and a dysfunctional bureaucracy. In 2010, it introduced a new appointments system which promised a 14-day wait for an appointment with a primary care doctor or a specialist.

While there have been reports for several years that the new waiting line system was being abused, the subject really began to gather steam three weeks ago when CNN interviewed Sam Foote, who had recently retired as a doctor after working for 24 years for VA hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona.

He said that as many as 40 patients had died after being placed on a hidden waiting list that could last for up to a year, while officials at the hospital shredded documents and faked evidence to make it seem as if waiting times were under control.

Three officials in Phoenix have been put on leave, although Mr Griffin said there was no evidence yet that patients had died because of delayed appointments.

Since then, whistleblowers have alleged similar practices at least seven other VA hospitals around the country and claimed that officials at the hospitals were sometimes paid bonuses for reducing declared waiting times.

The political impact of the scandal has been somewhat muted so far, in part because of the respect still enjoyed by the veterans affairs secretary, retired four-star general Eric Shinseki who was himself wounded twice in Vietnam. Appearing before a Senate hearing on Thursday, Mr Shinseki received pointed questioning, but in a tone more respectful than almost any other cabinet member would have encountered. “I am mad as hell,” he told the committee.