The resignation of Eric Shinseki as head of Veterans Affairs (VA) was a necessary step in restoring the credibility of the federal agency when it comes to the health care it provides to its beneficiaries.
The independent report from the VA’s inspector general was the stroke that broke the camel’s back. It revealed that the VA hospital in Phoenix had 1,700 veterans on an unofficial waiting list, that patients waited up to 115 days and that “significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care.” Even worse, the report found that the manipulation of patient waiting lists, in order to give management the impression that wait times were shorter than they actually were, was “systemic” throughout the VA.
Shinseki’s initial reaction to these problems and news reports that long waits had led to the deaths of beneficiaries was very mild. He did not respond appropriately to the general outrage caused by the government not providing the proper care to soldiers that it had sent to war. Otherwise, the VA leader would have assured people that the problems would be corrected and would have politically shielded the White House from Republican criticism.
In an election year, the opposition wants to hold President Obama directly responsible for the dishonest actions of a group of individuals who are part of a bureaucracy of 280,000 people working at 1,700 facilities. Opponents are seeking to fully take advantage of the situation.
Providing health care to veterans is important, since our country owes them a social debt. A change of leadership at the VA will be a positive step toward that goal. The issue now is whether there will be a bipartisan effort to honor our obligations or if the search for solutions will be set aside in order to earn election brownie points and nothing else.