Paul Greenberg: Call it Obamacare for vets

Oklahoman Modified: June 12, 2014 at 5:10 pm •  Published: June 13, 2014
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Fast on the uptake as ever, the speaker of the U.S. House, the permanently tanned if not taxidermied John Boehner, has delivered his judgment on the ever-unfolding scandal at the Veterans Administration: “The fact that more than 57,000 veterans are still waiting for their first doctor appointment from the VA is a national disgrace.” Ya think?

The speaker has a way of making the obvious sound like his personal discovery. This latest statistic in the news is hardly news any more, but just another sliver of tissue from the VA’s tumorous undersurface to be examined and diagnosed.

The VA now has another transient chief. (This one is only an acting secretary because these days its chiefs seem to come and go with every disgrace.) He calls the latest data about how long the VA is keeping vets waiting for treatment evidence of “the systemic problems we face….” To translate, systemic is the latest bureaucratese for rotten through-and-through.

Metastasizing might have been a better term for the problems at Veterans Affairs, since the rot just keeps on showing up. Or at least it just keeps on being revealed.

This new, only acting secretary of the VA says its problems “demand immediate actions,” which may be the way this administration deals with any problem: First deny it, or maybe dismiss it as not all that bad, then react in horror when a chronic crisis can no longer be covered up, and only then take immediate action — and only immediate action. That is, adopt some stopgap and then forget about it. As with Obamacare in general, which now has more patches than a worn-out inner tube, and in the end may prove nothing but patches. (They tend to be called waivers.)

One of the White House’s various spokesflacks, Josh Earnest, sounds both as comic and deadpan as his name when he declares: “The release of today’s data is an indication of the president’s commitment to be transparent about this process.” As transparent as he was about Benghazi, no doubt. Transparently misleading. At least till the administration’s line was exposed as utterly false, which didn’t take all that long, but long enough for the president to stick with it an embarrassingly long time.

Do you think this still youngish man who hangs out in the Oval Office will ever learn? Probably not, for his self-satisfaction seems as sweeping as his self-regard. But hope springs eternal — the way this administration does leaks.

At last count, which can never be certain with this crew in charge, more than 57,000 vets have been waiting at least 90 days to get their first appointment at the VA, and another 64,000 or so who made its waiting list over the past decade never did get in to see a doctor. Though it’s not clear how many of those 64,000 on waiting lists just gave up and sought treatment elsewhere. Or died waiting.

This latest hullabaloo over the VA erupted when it was revealed that at least 18 veterans died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix VA, and there’ll probably be more such revelations as all these investigations go national. So it is with scandals that keep on shocking, or should. But even the shocking grows routine when the news is about the VA.

Lest we forget, there are still some fine hospitals in the VA system. Indeed, there was a time when Veterans Affairs was considered a model of medical treatment, hard as it is to remember that far back.

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