This Week In Ongoing VA Incompetence

John Boehner

President Obama still has no long-term plan to fix the VA, which means our veterans continue to pay the price for its incompetence.

This week, for example, the VA is patting itself on the back for reducing its claims backlog below 100,000 – calling it a “historic milestone” that 98,535 veterans are still waiting for care. 

Well then.  Now, what’s strange about this – beyond the self-congratulation – is that the VA promised that the backlog would be down to nearly zero by now.

Here it is, right on page 5 of the VA’s “Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog,” issued in January 2013:

But now – outdoing itself in the excuse department – the VA says it’s not actually possible to eliminate the backlog that it’s been promising to eliminate for years.   “Zero for us is not an absolute zero,” one VA official says.  (Only in Washington is zero not really zero.)

As for the September 2015 goal, the VA says that was never a real thing either:

“The VA originally said the backlog would be eliminated by Sept. 30, 2015, then to the end of the calendar year.  Officials now maintain that no firm date was set, but offered only as a way to inspire the department.”  (

Wait, what?  So your pledge to end this national health care crisis was just some motivational tactic?  That isn’t just moving the goalposts – it’s moving the field, the fans, and the stadium.  And it’s the kind of bureaucratic doublespeak that our veterans have been enduring for years.

There’s more, as there always is with the VA.  A new internal report says that the agency is also falling short on mental health care despite spending billions of taxpayer dollars:

The VA ‘did not effectively use psychiatrists in its efforts to improve veterans’ access to psychiatric care,’ the inspector general said in the report, adding that poor ‘clinic management practices resulted in unused capacity of its psychiatrists.’  In 2014, Secretary Robert McDonald announced another hiring initiative as part of a broad reform package… Since then, the VA hasn’t come up with effective hiring goals or an effective department-wide system for managing psychiatrists, leaving these determinations to local hospital networks that haven’t been fully effective, the report says.” (The Wall Street Journal)

This is the same thing that happened after Congress expanded access to private care: the VA did little to implement the program because of “resistance to change among employees.”

This is why Speaker Boehner always says that while we can keep passing reforms, only the president can change at the culture at the VA.  Because even when we give the VA the tools to fix problems, it doesn’t follow up with any kind of plan or urgency.  And the longer the president fails to offer a plan to clean up this mess, the longer things will go on this way.

By the way, the VA has promised to do better on mental health care, and “most of the improvements have a target completion date of September 2016.” 

Now is that a real date? Or is it just meant to ‘inspire the department’? 

It’s sad that we have to ask, and yet here we are.

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