A leading voice of liberalism, the New York Times editorial page, ripped into President Barack Obama’s poor handling of the Department of Veterans Affairs wait list scandal.
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Seeking to head off a growing furor over veterans' health care, President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that allegations of misconduct at Veterans Affairs hospitals are "dishonorable" and will be not be tolerated by his administration. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
“President Obama expressed outrage on Wednesday at recent charges of wrongdoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care system,” the Times editorial said Thursday.
“But expressing outrage is hardly enough for a president who, as a candidate in 2008, criticized the agency and vowed to improve care and address backlogs,” the Times said. “It is past time for a more visible personal commitment to right these wrongs as well as strong White House support for legislation that would make it possible for top agency officials to fire those responsible for wrongdoing.”
The House passed bipartisan legislation to allow VA employees to be more easily fired or transferred for misconduct. The Obama administration has not taken a position on the legislation.
The Times acknowledged that the large department with 1,700 hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other facilities has had problems for a long time and has thousands more veterans to treat after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as policy changes in treating Agent Orange victims.
“Nevertheless, the buck stops with Mr. Obama, who pledged to build a ‘21st-century V.A,’” the newspaper said. “The White House says that while participation in the veterans’ health system has jumped 16 percent since 2008, the huge backlog of cases has, in fact, been reduced. Even so, Mr. Obama’s Republican adversaries now have fresh ammunition to use in questioning his management skills, and even some Democrats, such as Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut, have declared themselves ‘fed up and impatient.’”
Since the VA scandal broke, there are allegations that 40 veterans died while waiting for care they didn’t receive, in part as a result of officials allegedly cooking the books.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General has opened a probe into 26 VA medical facilities across the country. IG Richard Griffin is working with federal prosecutors to determine if criminal acts occurred in the Phoenix VA office. Books were allegedly cooked to make it appear that veterans did not have to wait for care for as long as they did. Reduced wait times were one factor in determining bonuses for executives.
The Times was not quick to call for the head of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, as some veterans service organizations have done.
“Some veterans groups and Republicans who sense another campaign issue are now calling for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the former general who has led the veterans affairs department for five years,” the Times said. “Mr. Shinseki’s future will depend heavily on whether he can respond to this crisis with decisive action.”