I am sure the Department of Veterans Affairs needs improving, but I am not sure the latest scandal sheds much light on what needs to be done. The fact that the scandal occurred in Phoenix, although similar cases have been found in other cities, indicates to me that his is a problem affecting older veterans. Nice people don’t serve in the military very often these days. Most volunteers come from rural or inner city areas where jobs are scarce. American elites talk about being patriotic, but they don’t often do anything about it. Therefore, I don’t think the people in Phoenix who died waiting for a call from the VA were veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan. There are a lot of old people in Phoenix; these veterans were most likely from an earlier war or peacetime service.
This raises the question of what services the VA is supposed to provide. In many cases, it is the caregiver of last resort for veterans. It has been criticized for falling down on this job, for example, failing to care for homeless veterans. Retired career military have a program called Tricare. If these Phoenix veterans died waiting for VA medical care, it means they had no Tricare, no private health insurance, no Obama Care, no Medicare, no Medicaid, and no local hospital would admit them to the hospital’s emergency room. That is a sad state of affairs for the veterans, and for the US health care system.
The VA has an enormous number of programs, covering young vets who have been badly wounded in combat, old wounded vets, young vets who are failing to adapt to civilian life after leaving the military, and old vets who are down on their luck, broke and sick. I am guessing the Phoenix scandal involves the last category, but the talking heads on TV don’t shed any light on the issue. They talk as if the VA is your mother, and once you leave the military, the VA will take care of you for the rest of your life, no matter what. I’m not sure that what the law says.
Lots of people want Secretary Shinseki to go, but nobody talks about who should replace him. He is a combat veteran (who served in I Corps in Vietnam while I was there), who cares about the men and women. As a cabinet secretary, Shinseki makes about $200,000 per year. Both the head of the Cleveland Clinic and the head of the Mayo clinic make over $2 million per year. Most heads of hospital systems earn over $1 million, and those systems are all smaller than the VA system. Most doctors running university medical schools earn well over $500,000. For almost anyone in the private sector, taking a senior government job means a substantial cut in salary. So the VA can probably rule out getting a first rate medical administrator. I would not expect much improvement if Shinseki gets replaced by some political hack, although the people shouting, “Off with his head,” would be appeased for a while.