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.
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.
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.
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.
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.