EDITORIAL: VA mess demands answers, accountability

On Memorial Day, we remember the sacrifice of those who have sacrificed and died in service to our country. We are in their debt.

Abraham Lincoln, in the final portion of his final inaugural address, made clear our basic duty owed to those who have served: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Lincoln’s charge is the mission of the modern Department of Veterans Affairs, and recent events have made clear it has failed to follow it. A number of national media outlets have unveiled the awful truth: While VA facilities covered up delays in care, veterans died. Forty of them, at latest count. It seems such delays were also covered up close to home, in the Cheyenne and Fort Collins VA clinics.

These are outrages. It’s critical for Congress and the Obama administration to get to the bottom of Veterans Affairs mess. They should start with a wholesale housecleaning, replacing those in power with those who take seriously that the department has violated its most basic trust. It’s critical the VA assemble and rapidly implement a plan to cut down care delivery delays.

To some degree, it’s already done so. But we don’t have confidence that VA’s leaders, starting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, can reverse the rot they’ve either passively allowed or actively encouraged and be trusted to keep the VA on the right path.

It’s not yet known if any veteran died from delays at the Cheyenne or Fort Collins facility. But we do know a Cheyenne VA facility nurse is on administrative leave after an email she sent was uncovered in which she admitted to changing paperwork to make it appear veterans were getting care within 14 days when they weren’t.

Our congressional delegation is demanding answers as to what happened and why the nurse was only put on leave after media reports surfaced. We don’t always agree with the delegation, but on this we wholeheartedly concur. It’s time for some clear answers.

We don’t yet know everything, but the handing of the apparent crisis indicates the department’s failures stem from a lack of accountability. Such bureaucracy-wide failures are the responsibility of leaders who, knowingly or not, allow poor behavior to fester. Consider the non-answers of Shinseki, when he recently faced a congressional grilling. Or consider President Barack Obama, who said he had confidence in Shinseki to lead the department.

Shinseki is a twice-wounded combat veteran and honorably served as a soldier in a career that culminated in his role as chief of staff of the Army.

Yet he has failed as VA secretary. By not taking responsibility for already proven failures under his watch, Shinseki has dishonored the trust he holds. We respect his service, but he needs to be held responsible for the actions, attitudes and priorities of those he oversees.

It’s time for some answers. It’s time for some accountability.

Anything less is an outrage and disservice to veterans whose service we today remember and honor.

05/28/2014 - 10:18am