A memo went out at the Veterans Affairs Department last week, encouraging employees to care about their work in the VA. The “I CARE Quick Reference” sheet was circulated inside the department to remind workers of the core values the VA is supposed to embody: advocacy, excellence, commitment, integrity, and respect. But while those may be laudable virtues, many critics say the memo proves that any reform will be wholly cosmetic.
Pete Hegseth of Concerned Veterans for America said, “Adopting a catchy acronym and circulating a checklist is not enough. It’s easy to put on an ‘I CARE’ pin, but it doesn’t matter unless you actually demonstrate that care through your actions and the results you deliver.”
The department has faced tough public scrutiny since last year, when reports surfaced identifying more than 40 veterans who had died waiting for care at the Phoenix, Arizona facilities. Since that time, investigations both internal and external have shown similar problems at facilities across the country. According to an internal audit in June 2014, more than 120,000 military veterans were forced to wait for care, with some of them never getting it at all. Moreover, documents confirmed that schedulers were cooking the books to cover up the department’s shoddy work.
On Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said that 60 individuals had been fired for manipulating wait times. Unfortunately, that appears to be a lie. According to the documents the VA handed to Congress, only 8 workers and a select few senior officials have been given the ax for their role in the scandal. Others were punished with written reprimands, demotions, and probationary periods.
Gutting an Important Law
Last summer, the Choice Cards law was passed by Congress, giving veterans the option to go outside the VA system for care. However, it appears that McDonald and President Obama are finding ways around that law already. Weakening the law to the point where it may not matter, Obama proposed a budget that would let VA brass spend the $10 billion assigned for Choice Cards in any other way they wish. “It was about flexibility,” insisted McDonald.
“Flexibility” is exactly what conjured up this disaster in the first place. When a department is shown to be as substandard and deficient as this one, the last thing they need is more freedom. And since the Choice Card program only lasts until the money dries up, this flexibility effectively undermines the law. Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the Obama administration has found a way around congressional authority, would it?
It is unconscionable to play games with the lives and welfare of those who fought bravely for our country. Our nation’s warriors deserve better. If the VA wants to prove that they “CARE,” they will see to it that veterans are given the treatment they need in a timely, thorough fashion.