The Corner

On the VA, ‘Blame Bush’ Doesn’t Fly

Imagine that you visit a friend’s house a month after he’s moved in. The place is a mess: The roof leaks. The basement brims with trash. The walls have holes in them, and the porch creaks menacingly in spots.

“It’s a fixer-upper,” your pal explains. “The previous owner didn’t maintain it. But I will!”

So, you go about your business and return five years later.

This time, the house is even more dilapidated. The roof is partially imploded. The basement teems with vermin. Several walls have fallen sideways onto the weed-encrusted lawn. And parts of the porch simply have collapsed.

Far worse, several overnight visitors who braved these conditions actually died as the attic crashed down into the guest bedroom.

You stare at your friend, agog.

“It’s a fixer-upper,” he explains. “The previous owner didn’t maintain it. But I will!”

After five years and four months, this is how the “Bush did it” defense sounds in relation to the scandal consuming the Veterans Affairs department.

Obama “sees the ramifications of some seeds that were sown a long time ago, when you have two wars over a long period of time and many, many more, millions more veterans,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told journalists last Thursday. “We go in a war in Afghanistan, leave Afghanistan for Iraq with unfinished business in Afghanistan. Ten years later, we have all of these additional veterans. In the past five years, 2 million more veterans needing benefits from the VA. That’s a huge, huge increase.”

Translation: Blame Bush.

No doubt, Obama inherited a bad situation. Veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars came home (and still return from the latter) and require medical attention. Others — who were deployed stateside, in Europe, Asia, and aboard U.S. naval vessels — also need and deserve medical treatment, as both active-duty personnel and as veterans.

Obama was well aware of the VA system’s shortcomings. While still a U.S. senator, Obama declared on August 21, 2007: “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.”

After Obama won the White House in November 2008, outgoing Bush officials delivered a memo to Obama’s transition staff. As it explained, “This report and prior reports indicate that the problems and causes associated with scheduling, waiting times, and wait lists are systemic throughout the VHA.” 

So, rather than recently learning about this problem in the media — as the White House claims — the Obama administration was told about the challenge nearly seven years ago. Furthermore, Team Obama was reminded of this situation’s severity before his first inauguration.

The “blame Bush” defense might have elicited empathy and patience a year or two into Obama’s tenure. The VA is an aircraft carrier of an organization. It neither stops nor turns on a dime.

However, Obama has had five years and four months to fix this catastrophe, or at least show improvement. Instead, the VA health system features books cooked to conceal scheduling failures, documents shredded to cover-up this subterfuge, and at least 40 veterans who literally dropped dead while awaiting the medical care they needed and earned in America’s service.

Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. has read hundreds of e-mails he has received from veterans and their loved ones across the country. Based on that, “There is a palpable level of contempt for our veterans,” Johnson tells me. “Unfortunately, it seems to come from the highest echelons that the patients should be satisfied with whatever they get, no matter how untimely and how injurious their health handouts.”

For Obama and his defenders to blame Bush — or anyone but Obama — 64 months into his administration deserves nothing short of lip-curling scorn.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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