Obama Told Veterans ‘I Have Your Back’ but VA Problems Persist

Wounded soldiers undergoing physical therapy wait for President Bush to visit a physical therapy lab for wounded soldiers at the Center For The Intrepid at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
AP File Photo/Gerald Herbert

In March 2015, President Barack Obama said, “It’s important that veterans know that somebody’s got their backs, and that, if there are problems, that we’re not being defensive about it, not hiding it.” In March 2016, veterans are still having to wait for medical care, and some are dying in the process.

Scandoulous revelations of extended wait times, improper scheduling practices for U.S. veterans, budget mismanagement, insufficient oversight, lack of accountability, and cover-ups, were revealed in 2014 and again in 2015. New reports show that veterans in the country and in Texas are still victims of these practices.

It has been a year since President Obama attended a veterans roundtable at a Phoenix VA medical facility where he said he had veterans’ “backs.” His visit came after scandalous reports were made public about VA wait times and scheduling report manipulations. His promises made to veterans can be found at this link to a March 13, 2015 White House press release. The President’s statements include references to “cooking the books” and an “unwillingness to face up to the fact that veterans were not being adequately served went on too long, and as a consequence, we didn’t fix what needed to be fixed.” He correctly noted that there was a “need to restore trust and confidence in the VA system.”

On March 16, 2015, the White House issued an announcement saying “President Obama traveled to Phoenix, AZ to visit the Phoenix VA medical facility and to participate in a roundtable discussion with the Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, and veterans to hear about the progress we’ve made to improve the VA’s ability to serve our veterans.”

This March 2015 White House announcement states, “While in Phoenix, the President announced the launch of an advisory committee: The MyVA Advisory Committee will advise the VA on additional ways the VA can work to improve customer service delivery and veterans’ outcomes. President Obama also charged the new committee with assessing what progress has already been made at the VA to improve veterans’ access to quality medical care.”

On March 8, 2016, the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General released twelve reports on VA Health Care Systems in Texas. Seven of these revealed scheduling mismanagement that led to extended veteran wait times. Overall, they show that improper scheduling and scheduling data manipulation is ingrained throughout the VA Texas Health Care System. The reports also concluded that lack of supervision, poor training of employees, and non-centralized scheduling, are primary causes of data manipulation.

In May 2014, Breitbart News reported that a whistleblower behind the federal investigation of a Veterans Affairs clinic in Fort Collins said she was put on unpaid leave for two weeks for not “cooking the books” when scheduling the appointments of veterans. The former Navy reservist who was back on active duty said she refused to hide wait times of the appointment dates requested and the actual dates, a process called “Zeroing Out.” She was suspended after she filed an internal grievance about the transfer and scheduling practices. She was offered her pay back if she would no longer publicly talk about the problems at the VA.

Breitbart Texas reported on May 30, 2014, that a VA whistleblower was claiming that the VA hospital system in Texas is an “organized crime syndicate.” It appeared that VA administrators in Texas were attempting to cover-up policies that have allegedly created fake waiting lists to ensure that the administrators receive bonuses.

In June 2014, President Obama accepted the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and named Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson as acting Secretary. As reported by Breitbart Texas’ Bob Price, “The rare display of accountability le[ft] veterans and citizens across America wondering what is next for our wounded and otherwise injured veterans who are caught up in the bureaucratic delays and possible criminal behavior of some VA administrators.”

On June 24, 2014, Breitbart News reported that CNN’s Drew Griffin, the reporter who uncovered the VA scandal, interviewed another whistleblower. The scheduling clerk at the Veterans Administration office in Phoenix said the deaths of veterans were still being covered up by changing lists of veterans who have died to make it appear that they were still alive. CNN had reported that more than 1,000 veterans may have died in the last decade because of malpractice or lack of care.

In September 2015, Breitbart News reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report revealing that about 307,000 sick veterans died while waiting for care. The report actually found that many of the veterans on the waiting list had been dead for over four years. “The report confirms the worst-case scenarios about the long VA wait times that have made news reports and sparked questions in Congress since last year,” the Breitbart article noted. Reports also revealed that “the [VA] enrollment program did not effectively define, collect, and manage enrollment data.”

The Breitbart News report chronicled that the study “occurred after whistleblowers warned of the utter mismanagement at the Veteran Affairs offices that included incorrectly making unprocessed applications and the deletion of thousands of records over at least the last five years.” The OIG study also revealed that waiting lists included one veteran that had died in 1988 and another had been on the waiting list for fourteen years.

On Thursday, Texas John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and Governor Greg Abbott, sent a letter (attached below) to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to address problems that are still pervasive at the VA.

These Texas leaders also asked the VA Secretary to use the authority granted by Congress “to remove any individual from the VA Senior Executive Service whose poor performance or misconduct warrants such removal.”

“We remain troubled that the VA continues to fail to provide timely health care to our nation’s veterans, despite receiving enhanced authorities and funding from Congress to hire new employees and address additional problems facing the VA,” they wrote. “Our veterans have fulfilled their solemn duty to the nation, and the VA has an obligation to provide them with timely, high-quality health care.”

Last year, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz successfully passed an amendment to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2016. It requires the VA Secretary to provide federal lawmakers with a plan to address the long wait times for veterans seeking care at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

In February of this year, the VA Inspector General found 51 scheduling red flags at 73 other veterans medical facilities, as reported by USA Today. The following includes a list of 111 VA facilities flagged for wait-time investigation.

During his State of the Union speech in January of 2014, President Obama promised veterans that he would stop the backlog. He said, “No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform. As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need.”

Breitbart News’ John Hayward wrote after Obama’s State of the Union speech, that while he asserted “already, we’ve made strides” to improve the lives of those who have served this country in the military, “In reality, of course, the Veterans’ Affairs Department nightmare evolved into a massive crisis while Barack Obama was asleep at the wheel, his empty rhetoric from 2008 about reforming the VA long forgotten.”

Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as an associate judge and prosecutor in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2

Letter to U.S. Dep’t of Veteran Affairs Secretary


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