The Veterans Affairs scandal is deeper and more troubling than most Americans probably realize. The long wait times have been a problem for more than a decade, the coverup has been going on for years, and whistleblowers have been ignored or threatened with punishment. It is neither a new nor transitory problem. It is huge, long-standing, systemic, and fatal.
On Monday the head of the Office of Special Counsel, Carolyn Lerner, wrote to President Obama to outline problems her office found. The OSC handles whistleblower complaints. She reported two cases of VA employees being punished for refusing to participate in the coverup of patient wait times. She listed shockingly long waits for mental health care in Brockton, Mass., highlighting two veterans who waited seven and eight years, respectively, before receiving their first psychological evaluation.
On Tuesday Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released a lengthy report on VA mismanagement and abuses. It included April, 2012, testimony from retired VA Mental Health Administrative Officer Nick Tolentino, who worked at the VA Medical Center in Manchester and told how he and other staff were instructed to cover up the lack of access to services.
The problems predate the Obama administration, which was briefed on the issue in 2008. Yet Obama began a top-level investigation only after the scandal broke into public view in April. We bet the problem would have been solved immediately had there been seven-year waits for tee times at the three Andrews Air Force Base golf courses.