VA Scandal Unconscionable

Member Group : Lefty's Logic

In the last column I named the EPA as today’s Frankenstein monster. My vote for the bride of Frankenstein is the current Veterans Administration (VA). How could a federal agency with the most noble of missions be eligible for so onerous a title? For once you don’t need me to explain the corruption uncovered by an orchestra of whistle blowers. Even the main stream media, normally silent on issues potentially damaging to the White House gang, are reporting this national scandal that is an eerie preview of things to come under Obama care.

Although the scope of the current VA scandal need not be reviewed, the formation and evolution of the VA as a government agency may be helpful:

As far back as the Continental Congress of 1776, pensions were provided for soldiers who were disabled. In those early days direct medical and hospital care was provided by individual states. After the Civil War, many state veterans homes were established.

Congress established a new system of veterans benefits when the United States entered World War I in 1917. By the 1920s, various benefits were administered by three different federal agencies but in 1930 the Veterans Administration(VA) was established to consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans. The three component agencies became bureaus within the VA.

By the close of World War II in 1945, the veteran population exploded. Coupled with an aging World War I population , the VA workload increased 500% with the addition of 15,000,000 WWII vets. For the most part the VA did a good job despite the explosion in patient numbers. However, those were the days before career bureaucrats placed a bonus
above veteran care.

The VA health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930 to include 171 medical centers, over 700 outpatient clinics, and 126 nursing units.

Funding for the VA has always been a bipartisan effort. Since 2009, Congress has given the VA every penny requested resulting in a 50% increase in the Agency’s overall budget at a time when budgets almost everywhere else in the federal government have been reduced. Congress has even given the VA the annual funding it needs to cover veterans health care a year in advance. The current VA scandal is not due to funding, but is due to a failure of planning, leadership, and career bureaucrats gaming the system.

My direct involvement with the VA as a consulting engineer began in the mid 70’s at the Altoona VA hospital complex. The project included the redesign of the electrical system and the supervision of construction work to be completed while the complex continued to operate as a medical facility. Cooperation from the maintenance department, administration staff, and medical personal was excellent.

A decade later a less complicated electrical renovation at the Martinsburg, WV complex revealed a bureaucracy more concerned with political correctness and the CYA syndrome than providing services to our veterans. Initially, an apprentice electrician from the maintenance department was assigned to me as I completed the field survey of the complex in advance of the electrical redesign and installation. The apprentice was selected by the the chief electrician who was the heir apparent as maintenance department supervisor. A year later I returned to the complex for a final inspection of the renovation project. To my amazement the chief electrician had been bypassed for promotion to department supervisor. The apprentice filled the supervisor’s position because of quota requirements for the Affirmative Action Program. The VA administration had become more concerned with political correctness than professional competence! The new supervisor had been promoted to his level of incompetence( The Peter Principle) and the morale of the entire maintenance department had been undermined. The taxpayer was the biggest loser since extra charges by outside contractors had skyrocketed when they discovered the lack of experience of the new maintenance supervisor.

Important points to be made by these two case histories. First, we can’t paint the current VA scandal with a broad brush. There is good and bad management in our nation’s second largest federal bureaucracy. Second, there is too much temptation to game the system when bonuses are based on alleged good performance.

Let me repeat a sad but true fact of life based on empirical evidence. What the federal government does for a dollar the states can do for fifty cents. Therefore, my solution is to return the funding for this giant bureaucracy back to each state prorated on veteran population. The function of each state would be to issue a voucher to each vet who could then design his or her own health plan and keep their own doctor. Based on current taxpayer expenditures many of our warriors could then afford and receive immediate Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins care! The dedicated medical staff and honest administrators already employed in the VA system should have no trouble transferring their talent to the private sector. Even the toads gaming the system could start new careers emptying bed pans.

Stratton Schaeffer
Retired Consulting Engineer and Farmer
May, 2014