Once again, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sits near the top of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) list of troubled federal programs. Although the last evaluation was two years ago, the VA has been so slow to improve that it remains a “high risk” according to a new report.
Manipulated wait times, cancelled appointments, misdiagnosed ailments, and other tragic and reckless behavior have put veterans at risk. More than two years have passed since the Obama administration promised reform, but veterans are still dying and even more are being forced to suffer while waiting for care.
Wait times have not made much progress in that amount of time, as over half a million vets still wait more than 30 days for an appointment. In fact, wait times didn’t even appear to be the highest priority under Secretary Bob McDonald’s leadership– he stated he doesn’t believe wait times should be a measure of success. Even though additional doctors and staff have been hired, the department has a hard time managing almost 9 million military veterans at more than 1,700 VA facilities across the country.
This GAO also evaluates programs by more than structural efficiency. Instances of waste, fraud, and mismanagement are also considered – and the VA has many examples of each. Excessively long wait times have been manipulated to look less severe, bonuses have been paid to undeserving executives, and funding for veteran care has been carelessly wasted.
Ambiguous personnel policies and a lack of oversight give newly-nominated VA Secretary David Shulkin plenty of opportunities for positive improvements at the VA. Shulkin should embrace reforms that eliminate waste as well as implement policies that address mismanagement of veteran’s health care. Serving veterans and removing VA from the “high risk” category should be a top priority of this new administration.