A TOP AIDE to President Obama says the President is “madder than hell” over the recent revelations that Veterans Affairs’ officials hid backlogs and secret waiting lists in order to collect performance bonuses. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki expressed the same anger during his testimony before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
How could any American not be upset to learn bureaucrats put their own interests before those of veterans seeking the care they have earned? Of course President Obama and Secretary Shinseki are angry; their anger is not in question. It is their ability to lead and respond to the VA scandal which is in serious doubt.
Secretary Shinseki has been in his post since the start of President Obama’s first term; he has had ample chance to enact change within the VA. If he had succeeded, this scandal would never have happened. While I believe Secretary Shinseki is a good and honest man who has served his country admirably, that does not change the fact that he can no longer lead effectively and instill veterans with confidence in the VA. He needs to resign. If he is unwilling to resign, the President needs to fire him.
But that has not happened. Every action and word from the White House in response to this scandal shows us that President Obama’s priority is limiting the political fallout. By refusing to fire Secretary Shinseki, President Obama has again played politics. The resignation of a high-profile cabinet secretary due to a scandal is not exactly a great talking point for Democrats already facing a tough election cycle. If President Obama were serious about reforming the VA system to meet the needs of our nation’s veterans, he would have already fired Secretary Shinseki and he would be pushing for criminal prosecution of the VA officials in question. President Obama has done neither of those things.
I find that to be absolutely unconscionable. At the end of the longest conflict in American history, with the most repeated deployments of any war in our history, the President of the United States is more concerned with political trouble than taking care of our veterans. “Madder than hell” doesn’t really cover it for me. Disappointment, sadness and shame better describe my reaction. As typical as that kind of “leadership” may be in Washington, I still find the President’s capacity to put politics above men and women who have served in uniform absolutely astounding. It’s unacceptable leadership for a great nation and its unacceptable leadership for a trying time in America. Our veterans need better.
Surprise, however, isn’t one of my reactions. If you look at any scandal during the Obama Presidency, President Obama’s No. 1 concern is always politics, never accountability and the truth. Well, here is the truth: The VA system has serious, systematic failures such as getting veterans into the system, providing quality care quickly, and holding their employees accountable. Veterans in New Hampshire are no stranger to these problems, as there is no full-service VA hospital in our state, which means some veterans have to travel hours to see a doctor or fight through miles of red tape in order to be seen at a non-VA facility. Real changes at the VA are needed, such as new leadership, greater oversight, less red tape, more stable funding, a greater focus on the needs of the veteran, and less concern for the public image of the VA.
Real change at the VA, while desperately needed, will take time. Our veterans, however, do not have the time to wait. As we saw at the VA facility in Phoenix, some veterans have died while awaiting treatment. That’s why as your Congressman, I will sponsor and support legislation which allows veterans access to non-VA facilities if they cannot receive adequate or timely care at a VA facility.
No veteran should be kept from care because of bureaucratic delays or government red tape. In the aftermath of the VA waiting list scandal, the veterans, not politics, should be our focus. I assure you our nation’s veterans will always be on my mind while serving you in Congress.
Gary Lambert is a Nashua attorney, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves, and a former state senator. He is running for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 2nd District.