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Topics: House of Representatives

Public must keep spotlight on Veterans Affairs scandal: Examiner Editorial

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Opinion,Editorial,Barack Obama,Senate,House of Representatives,Veterans Affairs,Tom Coburn,Veterans,Washington Examiner

When a government scandal explodes, the proliferating revelations can quickly become overwhelming, causing the public to disengage. In the case of the rapidly widening controversy at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Americans must not let this happen. They owe this much to the veterans who fight America's wars. If the present scandal goes on the back burner, neglectful VA bureaucrats will continue mistreating veterans and covering their tracks, as they have been doing for too many years.

This is the underlying lesson in the latest scathing report on the federal government's largest civilian agency. It was released Tuesday by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. In addition to systemic falsification of waiting lists, Coburn's report alleges that poor VA care has caused up to 1,000 needless patient deaths and resulted in nearly $1 billion in malpractice payments in the last decade.

Clever bureaucrats are devoting their full attention to suppressing VA scandal evidence by any means possible.

Coburn, himself a practicing physician, notes that, even as suffering veterans wait for appointments, VA physicians carry an average caseload of 1,200 patients - roughly half that of their peers in the private sector - and can be paid much more. The department has long resisted attempts to set productivity goals for its 19,000 doctors.

Whistleblowers at VA frequently suffer retaliation while wrongdoers are punished lightly, if at all. One employee was rehired by the agency after crashing his government vehicle after a night of heavy drinking, killing a co-worker.

The VA has spent $500 million since 2009 on “office makeovers.” This, plus routinely awarding performance bonuses for managers (78 percent received bonuses last year), help explain how the VA has failed so dramatically despite receiving a 67 percent budget increase under President Obama.

The worst part is that this was all preventable. “Congress has ignored its oversight role because it requires hard work,” Coburn said, “asking tough and often uncomfortable questions of government officials, examining budgets, listening to whistleblowers and constituents, and standing up against special interest groups.”

Incredibly, the Democrat-dominated Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee has held only two oversight hearings in the present Congress. By contrast, the Republican-controlled House Committee on Veterans' Affairs has held about 40 and forced the scandal onto the national agenda. Unfortunately, members of Congress - especially those in the party of a second-term president - disdain oversight until things go badly wrong. As a result, derelict bureaucrats know they can survive by hunkering down and stalling for time.

A shocking report aired Monday by CNN underscores that this lack of oversight can have profound consequences. Whistleblower Pauline DeWenter came forward to report that, even in recent weeks, someone at the Phoenix VA has been tampering with patient records to hide the full number of veterans who died while awaiting treatment.

Clearly, an advance-stage cancer afflicts every corner of VA. Instead of attacking the disease, conniving bureaucrats are suppressing evidence that it even exists. The public must insist on behalf of every veteran that all bureaucratic wrongdoing at VA be brought to light, and those responsible be punished to the maximum extent the law allows.

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