Shinseki exits -- now what?

Network of ineptitude at Veterans Affairs cries out for swift solutions

Something resembling accountability in the deplorable and ever-widening Veterans Affairs scandal finally appeared in Washington on Friday with the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

It’s a good start toward remedying the bureaucratic misconduct and gross neglect that has led to dozens of preventable veteran deaths nationwide, but that’s all it is – a start.

The entire department – the second-largest in the federal government – needs a thorough checkup to root out a culture of indifference that appears to permeate all levels, from front-line health-care professionals to the top-level administrators who continue to stonewall the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

“Until the VA understands that we’re deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day,” an angered Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said at the Wednesday hearing after the repeated, maddening side-stepping by Joan Mooney, the assistant VA secretary for congressional and legislative affairs.

As the scandal widened this week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for a “comprehensive review” of the U.S. military’s health-care system.

“The department must continue to provide the best available health care to our servicemen and women, and their families, who have sacrificed so much on behalf of this nation. They deserve nothing short of our highest level of effort,” Hagel said in a memo Wednesday.

If this is the government’s “highest level of effort” in delivering quality care to Americans, what horror stories await the full implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act? Now that it’s apparent that military health care has been ridden to ruin, what other government-run initiatives out there are being corkscrewed into the ground?

The meltdown we’re seeing at the VA is Obamacare writ small.

We understand the intimidating breadth and scope of the VA. It’s a bureaucratic leviathan that’s hard for any one leader to wrestle with.

But we’re talking about Shinseki here – a retired four-star general and a former Army chief of staff. As America’s secretary of veterans affairs, his responsibility was to investigate and to act and to solve problems on behalf of our nation’s bravest. He bore a sacred obligation to know exactly how our veterans were being taken care of. For heaven’s sake, he’s a veteran himself.

And he blew it – on a titanic scale.

This should serve as a warning to anyone leading a bureaucracy – you simply can’t solely take the word of people who report directly to you.

When Shinseki was scheduled to meet with Obama on Friday, most everyone knew the upshot would be Shinseki’s resignation. Yet another scandal has swamped the White House, and a sacrifice had to be made to appease the outraged.

Now fix the disaster of military health care.

No doubt about it – Shinseki had to go. But his firing won’t bring back former members of the military who survived war, only to lose their lives at the hands of possibly the worst enemy they ever faced – deadly government ineptitude.

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