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Tags: Eric Shinseki

Criticism of Shinseki Was a ‘Distraction’ From What, Exactly?



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President Obama announced he accepted Shinseki’s resignation today, but you read the easily-predicted tone of his statement on this blog Wednesday:

The next act of this play is predictable: Within a few days or weeks, Shinseki will offer his resignation, not over the widespread failures at the VA but citing fears that he has become “a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.” Obama will accept the resignation, give Shinseki a thank-you ceremony similar to the one for former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, thank him for his service, and make remarks that somehow Washington’s “finger-pointing” and “blame-game” is the real problem here.

Because if Shinseki admits he was a part of the problem, it means the man who appointed him is part of the problem, too.

Despite what you just heard from the president, Shinseki is not resigning because he fears he is becoming a distraction. He is resigning because he failed to do his job well.

Tags: Eric Shinseki , Barack Obama , VA

No, Really, the VA Scandal Found a Way To Get Even Worse.



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The lead headline from today’s Morning Jolt, hitting e-mailboxes mid-morning, may represent a bit of wishful thinking:

By the Time You Read This, Eric Shinseki May Already Be Gone.

For many, many good reasons:

A Veterans Administration health clinic in Phoenix used inappropriate scheduling practices and concealed chronically high wait times, according to an independent report released Wednesday — igniting a wave of outrage and prompting a new flood of calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

The report, a 35-page interim document in advance of a full independent probe, found that 1,700 veterans using a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial wait lists.

Equally damning is the Inspector General’s examination of 226 veterans’ appointments in Phoenix during 2013. While the facility reported that only 43 percent of those veterans had to wait more than 14 days for an appointment, the report found that it was really 84 percent. The average wait for a veteran’s first appointment was 115 days, the investigation found in the sampling.

And those details, the inspector general warned, could be just the beginning.

We are finding that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide,” the report concluded.

Wait, it gets worse than the unofficial wait lists: “At least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and never placed on a wait list at the Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix.”

Wait, it gets even worse: “It also appears to indicate the scope of the investigation is rapidly widening, with 42 VA facilities across the country now under investigation for possible abuse of scheduling practices, according to the report.”

Don’t worry, America. The President is on the case: “The President found the findings of the interim report deeply troubling,” says Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken.

This morning, Shinseki writes in USA Today that he’s on the case as well.

The findings of the interim report of VA’s Office of Inspector General on the Phoenix VA Health Care System are reprehensible to me and to this department, and we are not waiting to set things straight.

I immediately directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to contact each of the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix waiting for primary care appointments in order to bring them the care they need and deserve.

In short, the guy who completely missed an appalling scandal’s emergence and spread, and who remained oblivious to it until very recently, is insisting to us that he’s just the guy to solve the problem. 

Tags: VA Scandal , Eric Shinseki , Barack Obama

The Predictable Next Act of the VA Scandal



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Over in the Corner, Andrew Johnson notes Democratic Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and John Walsh of Montana called on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to go.

It’s likely that other Democratic senators will follow, and with a bipartisan calls for a firing or resignation getting louder, at some point in the not-too-distant future, Shinseki will step down. 

Keep in mind, May 19, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “The president has confidence in Secretary Shinseki.”

Then on May 21, President Obama said:

Ric Shinseki has been a great soldier. He himself is a disabled veteran, and nobody cares more about our veterans than Ric Shinseki. So, you know, if you ask me, you know, how do I think Ric Shinseki has performed overall, I would say that on homelessness, on the 9/11 GI Bill, on working with us to reduce the backlog across the board, he has put his heart and soul into this thing and he has taken it very seriously.

But I have said to Ric, and I said it to him today, I want to see, you know, what the results of these reports are, and there is going to be accountability. And I’m going to expect, even before the reports are done, that we are seeing significant improvement in terms of how the admissions process takes place in all of our VA health care facilities.

So I know he cares about it deeply. And, you know, he has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We’re going to work with him to solve the problem, but I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report.

The next act of this play is predictable: Within a few days or weeks, Shinseki will offer his resignation, not over the widespread failures at the VA but citing fears that he has become “a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.” Obama will accept the resignation, give Shinseki a thank-you ceremony similar to the one for former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, thank him for his service, and make remarks that somehow Washington’s “finger-pointing” and “blame-game” is the real problem here.

Because if Shinseki admits he was a part of the problem, it means the man who appointed him is part of the problem, too.

Tags: Eric Shinseki , VA , Barack Obama

Another Day, Another Series of Horrific Stories Out of VA Facilities



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From the final Morning Jolt of the week:

Another Day, Another Series of Horrific Stories Out of VA Facilities

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apparently is going to institute a new lengthy waiting period before action to address the problem of lengthy waiting periods.

We’ve lost patience over your losing patients, Mr. Secretary.

Meanwhile, I usually scoff at the perennial “rogue low-level employees in Cincinnati” excuse, but every once in a while, that blind squirrel finds an acorn.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Cincinnati settled 10 wrongful death claims between 2001-2012 for a total of $1.57 million, including several cases for missed diagnoses and “faulty care.” The VA, under increased scrutiny for possible falsified wait time information, settled more than 1,000 such cases for more than $200 million nationally . . . 

Data compiled by CIR shows there were several deaths linked to misdiagnosis or a “failure to treat,” the finding on Harvey’s claim. According to the heavily redacted original paperwork filed by his wife, Harvey died from a heart attack while staying at the VA hospital in Corryville in March 2008 at the age of 60. The Enquirer identified Harvey through an extensive search of public records, although Harvey’s widow or family could not be located after an exhaustive search. But the original claim document states in a handwritten note that “the Cincinnati VA did not take care of him on March 31, 2008 and he had a heart attack and died.”

Whistleblowers keep coming forward:

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs are “deeply concerned” by a whistleblower’s accusations but declined to comment further on allegations that the woman was punished for refusing to falsify wait times at the Fort Collins VA clinic.

“We are deeply concerned by the allegations raised by a Cheyenne VA employee over alleged whistleblower retaliation,” the VA statement reads. “We cannot discuss the majority of her allegations, due to the ongoing (Office of the Inspector General) investigation. We are also not at liberty to discuss personnel or disciplinary issues.”

The VA sent the statement Wednesday evening in response to a Sunday request from the Coloradoan.

A whistleblower complaint filed by Lisa Lee led to a federal investigation that found multiple problems with the Fort Collins VA clinic, including improper appointment scheduling that in effect hid patient wait times while making it seem patients were seen close to when they wanted.

Lee, a former scheduler with the Fort Collins VA clinic and now on active duty with the U.S. Navy, told the Coloradoan she believes she was targeted because she refused to hide patient wait times.

They’re brave, since past whistleblowers describe all kinds of retaliation.

And the complaints are jaw-dropping:

[Desert Storm Veteran Paul] Baker said he has had treatments at several VA hospitals across the country but his worst experiences have been at the Audie Murphy VA hospital in San Antonio, where he’s been forced to wait several months for a simple procedure.

“I’ve waited up to four months to get an appointment to see a doctor and another three months to get a test done,” Baker said. “Then you got to wait another four months to get the results back to see the doctor just to discuss what the procedure is going to be.”

With his health deteriorating, Baker has been fighting to get his benefits increased, waiting three years just to get a hearing to make his case.

Don’t worry, America. The U.S. Senate is on the case!

Nah, just kidding. The VA reform and accountability bill passed the U.S. House with 390 votes earlier this week. And then . . . 

Although Reid called the House bill “not unreasonable,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., blocked Rubio’s request for immediate action. Instead, Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, said he would hold a hearing within a few weeks.

Happy Memorial Day, huh?

Uniting and electing that Republican-controlled Senate sure looks good right now, doesn’t it?

Tags: Veterans Affairs , Eric Shinseki

Obama, 2007: Time to End ‘Deplorable Conditions at Some VA Hospitals’



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Then-senator Barack Obama, November 12, 2007:

After seven years of an Administration that has stretched our military to the breaking point, ignored deplorable conditions at some VA hospitals, and neglected the planning and preparation necessary to care for our returning heroes, America’s veterans deserve a President who will fight for them not just when it’s easy or convenient, but every hour of every day for the next four years.

By 2012, Obama continued to compare the performance of the VA during his administration favorably to his predecessor, declaring,

For the first time ever, we’ve made military families and veterans a top priority not just at DOD, not just at the VA, but across the government.

Now we know the report of at least 40 U.S. veterans dying while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system is only the tip of the iceberg.

Today:

When Shinseki took office, he vowed that every disability claim would be processed within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. But the backlogs only got worse.

It took about four months for VA to process a claim for disability compensation claim when Shinseki was sworn in. By 2012, the average wait time was about nine months.

In February 2013, the Examiner published a five-part series, “Making America’s Heroes Wait,” showing more than 1.1 million veterans with disability claims and appeals were trapped in bureaucratic limbo at VA.

About 70 percent of the 900,000 claims for initial benefits were considered backlogged, meaning they were older than 125 days.

The Examiner series also showed how agency statistics were manipulated to hide mistakes that doomed veterans into appeals that could drag on for years.

There were some early signs then that VA’s failures in delivering medical care were having deadly consequences.

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was reported in Pittsburgh in November 2012. Subsequent investigations by the inspector general and area media eventually linked a half-dozen patient deaths from the disease to faulty maintenance and poor management.

Reports of other deaths followed.

Four patients under VA’s care in Atlanta died of a drug overdose or suicides.

In Columbia, S.C., at least six patient deaths from colorectal cancers were linked to delays in receiving colonoscopies at veterans’ medical facilities.

VA eventually acknowledged that delays in providing care was linked to the deaths of 23 patients who died of gastrointestinal cancers at veterans’ health facilities. Deaths from other conditions were not disclosed.

Tags: Barack Obama , Eric Shinseki , Veterans

Shinseki Not a Frequent Visitor to Obama White House



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Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is on the hot seat in Washington right now. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank tore into Shinseki’s testimony from last week, concluding, “If Obama wants to resolve this VA debacle, he’ll need a less passive secretary.”

Shinseki, who became secretary in January 2009, is not a frequent visitor to the Obama White House. He visited the White House 33 times, according to official visitor logs, roughly one visit for every two months of his time in that position.

That’s less than some cabinet officials with higher-profile jobs. According to the logs, Attorney General Eric Holder visited 70 times. Hillary Clinton visited the White House 45 times (she was secretary of state for four years, as opposed to Shinseki’s five-and-a-half as VA secretary). The name of Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, appears 30 times.

Some outside the administration visited the White House more frequently. “Democratic super-lobbyist” Anthony (Tony) Podesta appears in the White House visitor logs 36 times. The name of Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio who is expected to be President Obama’s next nominee to be secretary of housing and urban development, appears in White House visitor logs 34 times.

Hilary Rosen, lobbyist, appears in the White House visitor logs 59 times. Of course, White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested this may refer to more than one person; he said he personally knows three Hilary Rosens. (An amazing coincidence that all three Hilary Rosens would end up visiting the White House so frequently!)

George Clooney visited the White House seven times.

Tags: Eric Shinseki , Barack Obama

Eric Shinseki’s Meaningless Claim That He ‘Takes Responsibility’



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The abominable callousness demonstrated at the Department of Veterans Affairs is deadly serious, and warrants more than an all-too-familiar claim of “responsibility” from Eric Shinseki:

Under withering criticism, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told a Senate committee on Thursday that he was “mad as hell” about allegations of deadly waiting times and coverup at VA hospitals but he doesn’t plan to resign.

The retired Army general faced angry legislators and then aggressive journalists with a consistent message, arguing it was too soon to cast blame and vowing decisive action if an inspector general’s investigation finds proof that VA workers manipulated waiting lists to cover up long delays for veterans seeking health care.

Last month, CNN revealed that at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, according to sources inside the hospital and a doctor who worked there. Many were placed on a secret waiting list, the sources said.

Of course, Shinskei is just echoing his boss and other members of the administration:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration that she takes responsibility for the failure to secure our facilities and personnel in Libya — with no word on any actual consequence of this failure — is the most recent example. But the approach began from the very start of this administration.

* On Feb. 3, 2009, former Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew as President Obama’s nominee for Commerce secretary after it was revealed he’d failed to pay some taxes. “I think I screwed up,” Obama told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I take responsibility for it, and we’re going to make sure we fix it, so it doesn’t happen again.”

Of course, Tim Geithner, who failed to pay more than $40,000 in taxes over a four-year period remained as Treasury secretary, and later we learned that 36 Obama aides owe $833,000 in back taxes.

* After a loud public outcry, Obama said he “took responsibility” for the millions in bonuses paid to AIG executives as part of the bailout. Of course, the bonuses remained.

* Discussing the national debt in Virginia on Aug. 6, 2009, Obama said, “I don’t mind being responsible. I expect to be held responsible for these issues, because I’m the president.” We’ve added $4.4 trillion in new debt since he said those words.

* After ObamaCare passed, the president admitted he hadn’t kept his promises on how the legislation would be handled. He told congressional Republicans that most of the debate had been aired on TV — except for some of the talks close to the Senate vote. “That was a messy process,” Obama said. “I take responsibility.” But it was too late to change anything about the law at that point, obviously.

* Obama said he “took responsibility” for the 2010 midterm results . . . but there was little or no sign that he changed his governing approach, philosophy or policies in response to the lopsided results in favor of the Republicans that year.

* Finally, in summer 2011, the president admitted that he’d misjudged the severity of the economic difficulties facing the country when he came into office: “Even I did not realize the magnitude, because most economists didn’t realize the magnitude of the recession until fairly far into it,” Obama said. “I think people may not have been prepared for how long this was going to take, and why we were going to have to make some very difficult decisions and choices. I take responsibility for that.” But the policies and approach we’ve seen since that declaration of responsibility are the same as what we saw before it; nothing changed.

The new way to avoid taking responsibility is to tell the world you’re “taking responsibility.”

Tags: Eric Shinseki , Barack Obama , Veterans

Shinseki to Run for Hawaii’s Senate Seat? Apparently Not.



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VA Secretary Eric Shinseki might have been an intriguing candidate for Hawaii Democrats, running in what is pretty friendly territory but perhaps facing tough competition in Linda Lingle . . . but apparently there’s not much to the rumor at all:

There’s a report circulating that retired U.S. Army General and current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is considering a run for Sen. Daniel Akaka’s soon-to-be vacated Senate seat.

Veterans Today this week reported Shinseki, a native son, “has informed his private staff he plans to resign his post and run for the Senate seat to be vacated by Daniel Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii. Shinseki is considered a ‘shoo in’ with no strong opposition in place.”

Queries to the Department of Veterans Affairs were unanswered.

But a top aide to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye told Civil Beat Tuesday that the report is untrue.

“I was in contact with the Secretary’s personal office and this is completely FALSE,” Peter Boylan, Inouye’s spokesman, wrote in an email.

While it is always possible for a potential candidate to change his mind, it would require Shinseki to take on a crowded Democratic primary and contradict this pretty clear denial. I mean, it’s in ALL CAPS.

Tags: Daniel Akaka , Eric Shinseki , Linda Lingle

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