Can Secretary David Shulkin fix the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”)? The answer is an emphatic NO!
This is not a commentary on Dr. Shulkin’s inspired leadership or his vision for a vastly improved VA, but a consequence of competing ideologies and a dysfunctional institution.
As Stand for the Troops has stated several times over the past year: “THE VA IS SIMPLY TOO LARGE TO SUCCEED IN ITS MISSION.”
As suggested in last week’s article by Maj. Ben Richards, the care provided by the VA is far different than the “happy talk” its administrators disseminate to a gullible public and Congress. The disturbing suicide of Veteran Eric Bivins can clearly be laid at the doors of the VA, but does anyone in authority really care?
Will the desperate pleas Eric’s spouse Kimi resonate in the corridors of power in DC? Probably not. And yet, Kimi’s description of the troubling treatment provided by the VA is far more accurate than the self-serving assurances that VA “change agents” dispense to the press.
Veterans are giving up hope daily and seeking treatment outside the VA. If Congress truly wanted to know the extent of the problems in the VA, they would surely spend far more time seeking out the views of Veterans than blindly accept the assurances of its administrators. Will this occur? Not likely – and even if it were to occur, not much is likely to change.
The VA is like an old automobile that is falling apart. Sure, we can try fixing it with the same failed strategies that have been used in the past OR how about trying a different approach? Scrap the dysfunctional VA and build a responsive institution that truly attends to the needs of most Veterans?
How Can the VA be Fixed?
With an annual budget of over $180 billion and nearly 350,000 employees, things can easily get off-track. More to the point, impassioned administrator can run about putting their fingers in the holes of a leaking dyke, but another leak will surface almost immediately.
As I stated previously,
NO AMOUNT OF MONEY or CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP or ENACTMENT OF NEW LEGISLATION will bring about A MORE RESPONSIVE VA.
The VA has become a bureaucracy that answers only to itself and is not responsive to the needs of Veterans. Frankly, the VA has lost its way and very little will change unless the VA is broken down into far smaller manageable components.
While smaller components of the VA will invariably fail, A SMALLER AND LESS CENTRALIZED VA WON’T COMPROMISE THE FULL MISSION.
The public seems relieved that Veterans now have a choice of service providers because the Choice Program has been extended by Congress, but for many thousands of Veterans like Eric Bivins and his family, there really is NO CHOICE!
Where the VA is Today
Personally, I believe that Dr. Shulkin has done a remarkable job in addressing some of the more urgent problems at the VA. While one can argue whether he has done enough, the task he has been given is like being assigned to captain the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.
The speed with which the VA will sink further into disrepute may be slowed, but SINK it will.
How many more reports do we need from the Office of the Inspector General (the “IG”) that the VA lacks effective governance and oversight?
How many more times to we have to fire ineffective VA employees when the Labor Union intercedes to protect employee “rights”?
How many more infection risks do Veterans need to overcome at VA facilities?
These are just the latest “issues” that Dr. Shulkin and his staff need to deal with. Despite evidence of much needed progress to overhaul the VA, these problems are likely to persist.
In fact, every local incidence of inefficiency or incompetence becomes magnified into a matter of national concern and raises further doubts about the VA’s ability to reform itself from within. Frankly, there are far too many competing mandates for it to do so.
Sadly, our Veterans and their loved ones will continue to suffer until we stop posturing and enact real reform.