Topics: Veterans Affairs

Examiner Editorial: Obama can't duck responsibility for the Veterans Affairs scandal

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Opinion,Editorial,Barack Obama,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,Veterans,Washington Examiner,Eric Shinseki,Magazine

President Obama said last year that he was angry when he first heard about the Internal Revenue Service targeting hundreds of conservative and Tea Party non-profit applicants for illegal harassment during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Nine months later, during his Super Bowl halftime interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, Obama laughingly claimed “not even a smidgen of corruption” was found in the IRS scandal, even though the faux investigation by the Justice Department and the real one by the House Oversight and Government Reform and Ways and Means committees were far from completed.

Now Obama is said to be angry about the scandal of America's veterans dying as a result of bureaucratic incompetence and manipulation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough claimed Sunday that the president was “madder than hell” and lamented that he “has the bruises to prove it.” The man Obama appointed in 2009 to head VA, retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, also purports to be upset about the VA scandal, laconically telling the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week that he is “mad as hell.” So how long now before Obama tells America there's no corruption at VA, just some “bone-headed decisions,” as he put it to explain away the IRS mess?

Being angry isn't the only parallel between how Obama has handled the IRS and VA scandals. On Friday, the White House announced that VA's under secretary for health, Robert Petzel, had been removed. It took reporters only about two minutes to recall that VA had previously announced Petzel's intention to retire in 2014. They also quickly pointed out that the Obama White House had pulled a similar stunt in the IRS scandal, claiming Acting IRS Director Stephen Miller had “resigned” shortly after testifying before Congress when the reality was that he had previously announced his intention to quit the following month. Such empty rationalizations recall President Bill Clinton dismissing it as “just a bureaucratic snafu” when 400 FBI files on prominent Republican figures somehow turned up in the White House political shop.

Those responsible for the IRS scandal may yet get away it , but that won't happen with the outrages at VA. Little attention was paid back in 2012 when the Washington Examiner's Mark Flatten first began shining the spotlight on the multitude of management and ethical problems in the day-to-day operations of VA. But people within VA had long been pointing to serious problems, including a 2010 memo to the department's topmost leadership describing eight ways waiting-times data was being manipulated by VA facilities managers.

Even the Obama transition team at VA took note of the problems in its 2008 report, according to the Washington Times. So Obama knew of these problems from before he took the oath of office, as Shinseki surely did when he first took over at VA. The department's most serious maladies have worsened under Obama and Shinseki. The president cannot evade responsibility on this one.

CORRECTION: Washington Examiner investigative reporter Mark Flatten was not involved in the writing of this editorial. Due to a technical glitch, his byline accidentally appeared on this piece when it was initially published. The Washington Examiner regrets the error.

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