The Department of Veterans Affairs has been plagued with problems of late but in the past two weeks, a new, particularly troubling scandal has come to light: secret waiting lists, where veterans in need of medical care languished for months waiting to be seen. After a whistleblower came forward in Phoenix, Arizona, more have spoken up about similar practices happening at their own VA medical facilities across the country.
To help hold the VA accountable and find solutions to the systemic problems, the Project On Government Oversight has partnered with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) to launch VAOversight.org. The web page offers VA staff who are aware of wrongdoing a secure avenue to confidentially tell POGO about what they know.
POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian and IAVA Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino announced the joint effort at a news conference this morning. Post-9/11 veterans stood by with signs reading, “Veterans Demand Answers & Accountability.”
“It takes a lot of courage to step forward and put one’s career at risk,” Brian said before the news conference. “Whistleblowers shouldn’t have to go it alone. We can help whistleblowers hold the VA accountable, and keep the focus on solutions rather than attempts to hunt down those who voiced concerns.”
Brian and Tarantino emphasized that while the site is primarily a tool for tipsters to reveal new instances of bad practices at the VA, the ultimate goal is to explore ways to improve the system so veterans can get the proper medical treatment the government promises.
“I’m hoping that everything is fine and there aren’t any more problems in the VA medical system, but as we say in the military, hope is not a method,” said Tarantino, a former Army officer. “We actually have to proactively find the extent of the problem in the VA medical system before it gets fixed.”
The recent revelations provoked a hearing this morning at the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki testified at the hearing, “The State of VA Health Care.”
“VA provides safe, effective healthcare, equal to or exceeding the industry standard in many areas,” Shinseki told the committee. “That said, there are always areas that need improvement. We can, and we must do better. VA takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously. I am personally angered and saddened by any adverse consequence that a Veteran might experience while in, or as a result of, our care.”
In light of the cover ups that have been reported over the last few weeks, Shinseki has ordered audits of all VA medical centers. President Obama has come out in support of Shinseki, but last week, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted to subpoena top VA officials for related documents.
Tarantino and Brian said they hope Shinseki and the rest of the VA will use the scandal as a catalyst for real change to what they see as systemic problems.
“The VA is charged not just with providing government services but with a moral obligation to our veterans,” Brian said. “Not only are they failing to perform their duty, but they’re covering it up.