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Romano: VA health care mess is a sin not easily forgotten

Too often, the VA health system has left veterans and their families walking alone.

Times (2004)

Too often, the VA health system has left veterans and their families walking alone.

The apology was long overdue. It was insincere and poorly executed.

In other words, it perfectly matched the level of competency we have come to expect from the Department of Veterans Affairs in this nation.

The VA apologized to Congress a few days ago for "inadvertently'' causing "confusion'' when it mixed and matched dates and numbers to make it appear that far fewer veterans were dying because of lengthy delays in medical care.

Here's an idea:

How about apologizing to the families of veterans who may have died needlessly?

How about apologizing for the insufficient care, the bogus bookkeeping, and the climate of intimidation that kept potential whistle-blowers from speaking up?

How about accepting responsibility?

This is not simply a scandal, it is a sin.

"I asked (an assistant in the) Inspector General's Office if you can trust the VA with their numbers, and she said no,'' said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor. "Can you imagine that?''

There is a temptation to dismiss the lax care and lengthy delays at VA facilities as inherent problems in a large bureaucracy. And there is probably some legitimacy to that theory.

But as weeks have turned into months and maladies have turned into nightmares, it is apparent this is not simply an inefficient organizational structure. This is systemic failure.

So feel free to blame the White House. The chain of command for the VA goes straight to the Oval Office, and the president is ultimately responsible for those in charge.

Feel free to blame Congress, too. Budgets matter, and the VA was clearly understaffed. And while we're at it, blame the media for not shining a light both brighter and sooner.

Just be sure to save a healthy supply of indignation for those in the VA's fanciest offices.

If money was scarce and doctors were overbooked and heroes were dying, why weren't they screaming? Why didn't they sound the alarm?

Their entire reason for existence is providing the best care possible for veterans, yet they made conscious decisions to obscure and deceive Congress and the public to make the problems seem less pervasive.

"Enough is enough,'' said Bilirakis, who is vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "They've covered too much up. They've lost all credibility with me.

"We've got to get rid of these upper-level officials responsible for this.''

President Barack Obama began the reclamation of the VA with a change in leadership a couple of months ago. Congress took the next step with a $16 billion legislative package approved last week that will lead to more facilities and medical professionals. The new legislation will also make it easier to discipline or terminate senior VA officials.

That's a good start, but it's not a final solution. What the VA needs more than anything is a change in culture. A recommitment to its mission.

It's not like we're expecting perfection. Mistakes will happen, patients will get overlooked and policies will always get second-guessed. The key is in the intent.

What happened at the VA was an epic failure, and that was bad enough.

But it was the cover-up and lack of accountability that made it a tragedy that should not be excused or forgotten.

Romano: VA health care mess is a sin not easily forgotten 08/09/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 10, 2014 12:28am]

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