Arlington, VA – Tonight, President Obama will address veterans and military families at a CNN Town Hall in Ft. Lee, Virginia. President Obama made a lot of big promises about reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when he took office, but his legacy shows a distinct pattern of failure. Between the 2014 wait list scandals, the appointment of a VA Secretary who rejects any meaningful reform, and increased VA funding that mostly went to waste, it’s safe to say that veterans are not receiving better care.
Here are five major ways the VA has failed American veterans under President Obama’s leadership.
1. Broken Promises. When he took office, President Obama talked a big game about VA reform. “No veteran should have to fill out a 23-page claim to get care, or wait months – even years – to get an appointment at the VA,” he said. He promised to bring the VA “into the 21st Century.” Eight years later, he hasn’t kept his promises – instead, he’s enacted weak reforms that did little to address the root of the problems at the VA.
2. 2014 Wait List Scandals. The 2014 wait list scandals at the Phoenix VA happened under President Obama’s watch. Stories emerged that the VA was pretending to treat veterans in a timely fashion while hiding veterans with particularly long waits on unofficial lists. As a result, many veterans suffered through unbearable delays in treatment – at least 293 veterans died because of this. It later came out that these secret wait lists were happening at VAs nationwide. How did the VA respond? By giving themselves over $140 million in bonuses in 2014.
3. Secretary McDonald. Rather than appoint a bold reformer to lead the department, President Obama instead chose Robert McDonald…who hasn’t lived up to the hype. Sec. McDonald denied that negligence contributed to veterans’ deaths in places like Phoenix. And in the aftermath of that scandal, he lied about having cleaned house and terminating unethical employees – in reality, he hadn’t fired any at that point. His most bizarre moment yet? When pressed about long waits for VA health care last year, McDonald compared veterans’ care to waiting for rides at Disneyland.
4. Lack of Meaningful Reform. Obama’s administration stood in the way of giving veterans choice over where and when to see a doctor, even when the VA was clearly failing. Congress tried to give the VA resources to hold failing or unethical employees accountable, but it still took over 700 days to fire senior employees directly involved with the wait list scandal in Phoenix. And when Congress tried to empower veterans with more options over where to receive health care, the administration stood against the idea (except in limited circumstances).
5. Wasted Funding. VA appropriations increased by 68 percent during President Obama’s first years in office, but it didn’t yield any meaningful results. Today, over 500,000 appointments still have wait times of one month or longer – despite promises that the additional funding would be used to hire staff that could decrease backlogs. Quality of care is also on the decline: VA medical errors are up 8 percent in recent years. Work culture at the VA is also more toxic than ever, with reported cases of workplace retaliation up 75 percent in the past two years.