Newt Gingrich: Veterans Administration Is ‘Grievously Sick’

Washington, D.C.

The Veterans Administration (VA) is in a desperate need of an overhaul after failing those it is supposed to serve for years, writes Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

In an article for The Washington Times, Gingrich, also a former Republican presidential candidate, compares the individual in Tunisia who set himself on fire and subsequently sparked the Arab Spring in December 2010 to a similar event involving a New Jersey veteran.

“Last month, a 51-year-old veteran set himself on fire in front of a Veterans Administration facility in Northfield, New Jersey,” notes the former House Speaker. “His comparable act of despair should be a call to another political revolution here in the United States–one focused on transforming the bureaucracies that are failing many of the most vulnerable Americans, not least our veterans.”

“No American should be satisfied with the incompetence and corruption exemplified by the VA. That the Department of Veterans Affairs is grievously sick has been evident since at least 2007, when the stories of neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center began to get public attention,” he adds. “We learned that the VA had wounded veterans recovering in deplorable conditions, and that the carelessness and indifference of the administrators led to a number of deaths.”

Gingrich declares that it is Congress’ responsibility to change the VA.

“The sickness of the system is so deep that, like a body infected with life-threatening cancer, the agency will need radical surgery if it is to survive,” he declares. “And a radical surgery is what Congress should perform in completely overhauling the agency. It is time to put veterans first, not bureaucrats.”

The VA has made a failed attempt to fix itself since the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal in 2007.

Press reports surfaced revealing that dozens of VA hospitals had been keeping secret outrageously long wait times through fraudulent records and that tens of thousands of veterans had been forced to wait for treatments for months or even years.

That prompted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to retire in 2014. The American people learned that 30,000-plus veterans died while waiting for VA provided care.

“Of course, firing the Secretary did not fix a system that is corrupt, extraordinarily resistant to change, and devoted to its own self-preservation” writes Gingrich. “The new secretary, Robert McDonald, has attempted to fire several of the senior executives responsible for the wait-time fraud.”

“He has discovered that, due to public employee unions’ intransigence, it will take up to 700 days (two years!) before the agency actually succeeds in firing them. In the meantime, they could continue to receive full pay–in one case, $250,000 a year–at taxpayer expense,” he adds.

The problems at the VA are far from solved.

A VA Inspector General’s report released this month shows that the bureaucrat appointed to fix the Phoenix VA medical center’s wait time issues had manipulated wait times herself while holding the position of VA hospital chief in Vermont. Her superiors were reportedly well aware of what she was doing.

Deborah Amdur assumed the position as head of the Phoenix VA facility this week.

A number of schedulers at the White River VA hospital in Vermont said they were instructed by Amdur during her tenure to alter the data in favor of showing that veterans were being provided instant appointments for care. Those who did not follow Amdur’s directions were threatened with being fired. The chief’s supervisors were reportedly aware of Amdur’s tactics.

The Military Times reports that the backlog of appeals cases in the veterans benefits system has nearly approached half a million.

“We’re failing veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, referring to the system. “This process is failing veterans. Nobody can defend the status quo here.”

A case highlighted by the National Review Law Journal shows that the VA has systematically and intentionally refused to pay the proper amount for veterans’ emergency room treatment, resulting in hight fees for veterans.

“In a recent court decision, the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims… held VA was violating federal law using an unlawful interpretation of statute. That statute required VA to pay for all uncovered costs related to veterans’ emergency room (ER) services,” notes Gingrich.

“VA surreptitiously interpreted the statute to justify denial of payments to veterans with insurance that would cover part but not all of emergency room visits,” he adds. “The interpretation resulted in veterans getting stuck with enormous bills following emergency room visits.”