CVA Memo: President Obama’s Record of Failure at the VA
On August 1st, President Obama will speak in front of the annual convention of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). In his remarks, the President will apparently tout “progress” on veterans’ issues.
However, President Obama and his administration have indisputably failed to properly manage the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – and America’s veterans have paid the price. Under the Obama Administration, the VA’s budget and staffing increases far outpaced increases in demand, but at the same time wait times for disability benefits and health care rose substantially. Additionally, despite replacement of the VA’s top leadership and more funding from Congress in the two years since the wait list scandal began, the VA’s own data shows that wait times for health care have actually increased for many veterans. The VA under President Obama has also had a near-complete lack of accountability and a toxic culture has been allowed to fester that produces near-daily stories of VA employees engaged in misconduct. This has been abetted by the Obama Administration’s recent refusal to enforce laws designed to introduce more accountability to the VA.
Part of the problem has been that President Obama approaches the problems at the VA as a political scandal to be contained, and not as an impetus to fundamentally reform and fix the troubled department. For example, President Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Rob Nabors, tried to whitewash a report on the deaths of dozens of veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital – which was ground zero for the VA wait list scandal. Additionally, President Obama’s VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, has repeatedly tried to blame problems at the VA on Congress, and personally attacked members of Congress who questioned the progress of reform at the VA.
President Obama has nothing to be proud of in regards to his record at the VA. Veterans who rely on the VA should not expect a change in direction from President Obama and his VA Secretary in the final months of this administration. Hopefully, the next President – whoever that is – will embrace reforms like the VA Accountability Act and the Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act– both of which would fundamentally transform the VA.
Additional Research and Context Below
The VA’s budget has grown massively under President Obama.
- The VA’s overall enacted budget has grown by 72 percent since 2009 – from $98 billion to $167 billion to 2016.
(“Department of Veterans Affairs, Budget in Brief”, VA.gov)
- The most recently available data from the VA shows that per patient spending on VA health care increased by about 25 percent since President Obama took office.
(“Average Expenditures Per Patient By Healthcare Priority Group: FY2000 To FY2014,” United States Department Of Veterans Affairs)
- Following the VA wait list scandal in the spring and summer of 2014, Congress allocated close to $15 billion dollars in additional funding to help the VA deal with patient access issues as part of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014.
(“Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 Highlights”, House Committee on Veterans Affairs,)
- While the VA routinely claims that they have not received enough funding under President Obama, they carry over hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent funds from one fiscal year to the next in their budget.
(Byron York, “The Senate’s Failed, Irrelevant Plan To Throw $20 Billion At Veterans Affairs Problems,” Washington Examiner, 6/1/14)
Despite the funding increases, wait times for critical benefits and health care have increased under President Obama’s Administration.
- From 2009 to 2013, the backlog of veteran disability claims doubled.
“America’s 23 million veterans are facing an unprecedented crisis as the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has grown to nearly 1 million—more than double what it was when President Obama took office.
The situation has reached a tipping point. Newspaper editorial boards and magazines call it a “national disgrace” and insist VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is calling for the resignation of Allison Hickey, the VA’s head of benefits.” (Jamie Reno, “As VA Backlog Grows, ‘Baffled’ Veteran Allies Begin to Turn On President,” The Daily Beast 4/08/2013)
- While the Obama Administration and the VA have been touting the recent reduction in the disability backlog, they failed to accomplish their goal of eliminating the backlog.
“The Veterans Affairs Department’s backlog of disability claims will finish 2015 near its lowest level in six years, but still will not come close to the publicly promised goal of zero.” (Leo Shane, “VA: Claims backlog better but never going away,” Military Times 12/29/2015)
- Reports of fraud and shredding of claims at VA regional offices also call into question methods used to reduce the backlog.
“Staffers for Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., said officials from the VA’s Inspector General’s Office confirmed they found key pieces of paperwork from veterans’ claims files “inappropriately placed in shred bins” at the department’s Los Angeles Regional Office.” (Leo Shane, “Report: VA disability claims ended up in shred bins,” Military Times 7/15/2015)
“A supervisor at the Houston regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs manipulated dozens of benefits claims, according to a recently released federal report, prompting further concerns about the agency already dealing with fallout from wait times and falsified records. Investigators with the Veterans Benefits Administration examined 91 claims the employee worked in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, and found he manipulated data on 81 of them, apparently under pressure to meet production goals set by management and improve the appearance of his team’s pending claims inventory, according to the report, released this week from VA’s Office of the Inspector General.” (St. John Barned-Smith, “Report: Houston VA supervisor manipulated benefit claims,” Houston Chronicle 6/18/2015)
- Following the revelation of secret wait lists at VA hospitals in 2014, an audit was conducted; it revealed that over 120,000 veterans were waiting 90 days or more for a medical appoint, or never even made it onto an official wait list.
“A nationwide audit by the Department of Veteran Affairs found that 57,000 veterans have been waiting more than 90 days for an appointment and that an additional 64,000 requested medical care but never made it onto VA waiting lists.” (Josh Hicks and Greg Jaffe, “VA audit: 57,000 veterans waiting more than 90 days for appointment at medical facilities,” Washington Post, 6/09/2014)
- Two years after the VA wait list scandal, wait times for health care for many veterans have actually gotten worse.
“Of the nearly 6.7 million medical appointments at Veterans Affairs Department facilities nationwide, 92 percent — roughly the same percentage for the past year — were scheduled within a 30-day standard set by Congress in 2014.
But the number of veterans who had to wait a month or more was up 23,000 from April, including the 297,013 veterans who have waited one to two months for an appointment.” (Patricia Kime, “Some Veterans Still Wait Months for Medical Care,” Military Times 6/3/2016)
President Obama’s administration was warned about the manipulation of patient wait times years before it became a national scandal… but they did not act.
- Obama’s transition team was briefed in 2008 that some VA hospitals might be concealing the true length of wait times.
“According to a 2008 memo obtained by CBS News, VA officials briefed the Obama-Biden transition team that its facilities might be concealing the true amount of time veterans had to wait for care.” (Rebecca Kaplan, “What did Obama know about the VA hospital scandal and when?” CBS News, 5/22/2014)
- An internal VA memo from 2010 detailed “inappropriate scheduling practices” at VA hospitals.
“An internal VA memo from 2010, first disclosed at a congressional hearing last week, showed officials warned of ‘inappropriate scheduling practices’ to cover up excessive waits for veterans four years ago.” (Scott Bronstein and Scott Cohen, “Obama: Shinseki stays for now, but VA misconduct will be punished,” CNN.com, 5/23/2014)
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