Eight months ago, President Obama put on a grand show for the troops. Surrounded by new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald, assorted politicians, military leaders and a bevy of TV cameras, the commander in chief signed the "Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act." He's good at inking things.
Obama condemned the "inexcusable conduct" at VA hospitals across the country (and under his own watch).
He vowed to "do right by all who served under our proud flag." He promised America's veterans new "reform," "resources," "timely care" and an end to the disgraceful disability backlog.
The bill he signed, in case you'd forgotten, included $10 billion in emergency funding to pay for veterans to go outside the chronically dysfunctional VA system if they are facing long wait times or live 40 miles or more from a VA facility, plus another $6.3 billion to set up 27 new clinics and hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff.
So, how's it all working out? About as well as every other "success story" Obama has signed his name to: abysmally, ineffectually and incompetently.
Take Obama's hyped plan to expand health care access to those who live far from a VA facility. Obtuse federal bureaucrats interpreted "40 miles" in the narrowest way possible, applied an "as the crow flies" distance rule inconsistently, and excluded untold numbers of vets. It took more than a year — and concerted pressure from veterans groups and GOP lawmakers — for the administration to "clarify" its confused eligibility standards just two weeks ago.
What about "accountability"? Obama bragged last August that "we've already taken the first steps to change the way the VA does business. We've held people accountable for misconduct. ... We should have zero tolerance for that." Looks like the VA bosses in Shreveport, La., didn't get the memo. As Tori Richards of Watchdog.org reported last month, a mental health services worker who exposed use of a secret appointment waiting list there was ignored for a year. Instead of accountability for the wrongdoers, the VA employee who blew the whistle, Army vet Shea Wilkes, became the subject of a criminal investigation.
And how's that new facility construction campaign going? The VA's atrocious complex has been a problem for decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Nothing's changed under the era of hope and change.
Here in Colorado, the new Aurora VA hospital has become another in a long line of government spending cesspools. The $600-million 184-bed facility is now estimated to cost at least $1.7 billion after a reckless parade of design changes, cost overruns and mismanagement — and may not be ready until 2017. "Accountability"? Pfffft. The head of the VA's Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction responsible for the waste was allowed to resign with a full federal pension and retention of nearly $60,000 in bonuses earned during the fiasco.
In Colorado Springs, a sparkling new "cutting edge" VA outpatient clinic opened last year on the promise of reducing wait times. But according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, "11.5 percent of veteran appointments for care in Colorado Springs are delayed by 30 days or more," which is "up from 7 percent" before the $10-million facility opened.
What's next? You know the drill: more congressional hearings, more grandstanding, another "reform" campaign, more posturing in front of cameras, and more screwed-over vets.
Throwing more money and platitudes at the VA to cover up its deadly scandals is a bipartisan Beltway recipe for failure. Recently retired Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the few to object to last year's kabuki "VA reform," was right. "The culture is one of looking good, protecting those in the VA and not protecting our veterans," he said at the time. "You have to have a bill that fixes that. I don't believe this is going to do it."
Mission not accomplished.