After pledging "a 21st century VA" in 2008, President Barack Obama's management of the agency is coming under fire as allegations of abuse at veterans hospitals around the country continue to grow.
A report in The New York Times
recalls that candidate Obama vowed that his administration would fix backlogs within the Department of Veterans Affairs and improve the care of every soldier returning from battle over five years ago.
Obama chided "the broken bureaucracy of the VA — the impossibly long lines, or the repeated calls for help that get you nothing more than an answering machine."
But now he is quickly being swept into the center of the storm. Aides said the president had to learn about charges that the VA "manipulated wait times to hide the long delays many patients faced to see physicians" from the news media, the Times reports.
Critics are attacking him for not being on top of the problem, and even former liberal supporters like Comedy Central's Jon Stewart have taken the administration to task.
"You don’t look mad," Stewart said of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who told a committee investigating the scandal that he was "mad as hell" over the affair. "Your 'mad as hell' face looks a lot like your, 'Oh, we’re out of orange juice face.'"
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said at a hearing last week that the FBI should be called in to investigate, according to the Times.
"Isn’t there evidence here of criminal wrongdoing, that is falsifying records, false statements to the federal government? That’s a crime," Blumenthal asked Shinseki.
The administration is calling for time to get to the heart of the problems within the VA and has so far dismissed calls for Shinseki's removal.
"We believe that the right thing to do is to fully investigate, fully review, take action to fix the problems that are identified, and make sure that the services are being provided to our veterans," Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, said Monday, according to The Times.
But the American public might not be so patient. A CBS News
report questioned what the Obama administration knew about the VA problems and when. CBS reports the Bush administration notified the incoming Obama administration that there were serious problems at the VA.
A 2008 memo obtained by CBS says the Obama-Biden transition team was briefed that some VA facilities might be concealing the true amount of time veterans had to wait for care.
"The problems and causes associated with scheduling, waiting times, and waiting lists are systemic," the officials wrote, according to CBS. The memo also suggested that the hospitals "properly document desired appointment dates and ensure patient waiting times are accurate" and failure to do so would affect "quality of care by delaying — and potentially denying — deserving veterans timely care."
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