Since the VA scandal broke this past spring, there has been no shortage of outrage among the veterans community regarding the long wait times to see a doctor at the VA medical centers. By now, most of you are familiar with the news of the secret wait lists and the elaborate schemes devised to conceal the long wait times while still allowing VA managers to collect bonuses. It’s an outrage and I have spoken out about this vehemently in the months since the scandal broke.
But I’ve been around long enough to know that just because one event follows another does not mean there is a causal link. In other words, just because it rains on Monday and a veteran dies on Tuesday does not mean the rain on Monday caused the death. In the context of the VA scandal, just because a veteran had to wait for an appointment does not, necessarily, mean that the delay caused the death. So, I was willing to concede that in some cases, there may not have been a link between the delay and the death of a veteran. But in other cases, I was convinced that the delay did cause or contribute to the veteran’s death.
So finally, at the recent September 2014 hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee the assistant inspector general for health care inspections admitted that the delays contributed to deaths. The inspector general’s office revealed that 293 veterans died out of 3,409 cases it reviewed in Phoenix.
In a first world country with the most elite military in the world, it is shocking that we treat our veterans with such disregard. Sadly, veterans have taken a back seat to the self-interested motives of career VA bureaucrats who devised systems of cooking the books to keep the bonuses coming while at the same time causing veterans to wait and even die for proper medical care. The depravity of human nature has infected the VA system. In essence, a weak link in the system was exploited by devious VA employees.
When the system rewards employees based on numbers-driven metrics, then it’s only a matter of time before a rogue employee is going to figure out a way to manipulate the numbers. And that’s what happened. The solution is to develop a system that rewards honesty, integrity, and quality patient care. The same goes for compensation claims pending with the Veterans Benefits Administration. The system should reward accuracy rather than speed of processing claims. As a veterans disability lawyer, I have seen countless appeals which could have been avoided if the VA rating official had spent a little more time in reviewing the file. But the pressure to “resolve” a claim promotes speedy denials just so the claim can languish in the appeal backlog. It’s time for VA to change the way it measures success.