The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

The VA Scandal Refuses to End

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


America’s armed forces represent the best of our country.  These men and women put their lives on the line to protect us.  That is why they deserve the highest quality medical care when they return home.  However, countless investigations and internal reports over the past decade have exposed a systemic cancer of mismanagement, neglect, and failure at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The 2014 scandal at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital, where several veterans died after being placed on a secret waiting list and others languished for months without care, was just the first of a series of bombshell revelations.  Since then, the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found VA hospitals from Georgia to Texas were maintaining cruelly long waiting lists.  An April 7, 2016, USA Today report detailed that VA employees in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” wait times, hiding the true length of delays, and VA supervisors themselves ordered the fabrication of wait times at medical facilities in seven states. 

President Donald Trump made the VA one of his top campaign issues.  He called the department, “most incompetently run agency in the United States.”  His choice for VA Secretary was Dr. David Shulkin, who served as Undersecretary of Health and head of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) under the last two years of the Obama administration.  Unfortunately, even Dr. Shulkin’s leadership is now in question. 

A blistering OIG report released on March 7, 2018, excoriated “failed leadership at multiple levels within VA” that included Shulkin’s tenure as head of the VHA from 2015-16.  The report blamed a “culture of complacency” for allowing gross negligence at Washington, DC’s VA facility.  The report found at least $92 million in overpriced medical supplies, over 10,000 pending appointments for prosthetics, and a “lack of consistently clean storage areas for medical supplies and equipment.”  Horrifically, the report noted that, “patients received unnecessary anesthesia when scheduled procedures were delayed to track down or borrow items.” 

Fundamentally, the report cited an “unwillingness or inability of leaders to take responsibility for the effectiveness of their programs and operations.”  That quote tells the story of the VA scandal.  With the saga now in its third secretary, veterans have to wonder if the VA’s toxic bureaucratic culture can be salvaged at all.  The Trump administration has made some positive strides to reform the beleaguered department, such as expanding veteran choice and streamlining the employee termination process, but the sad reality is that the VA still has a long way to go before it reaches the level of integrity that veterans deserve.

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