- - Friday, May 23, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki has been secretary of veterans affairs throughout the entire Obama administration. During that time, the VA’s budget has increased by almost 80 percent, the largest budget increase given to any Cabinet agency.

Yet here we are with a massive VA scandal consuming the administration. The core accusations involve paperwork and electronic data falsified to hide secret waiting lists, where veterans languished until many of them died waiting for medical treatment. It’s not a budget problem. It’s a leadership problem, very much including Mr. Shinseki and his boss, President Obama.

The VA system was under pressure from Mr. Shinseki to dramatically reduce wait times for treatment. At a growing list of hospitals and clinics, this was evidently done by doctoring paperwork to conceal the waiting lists and make treatment statistics look better. It’s a systemic problem from coast to coast, not the terrible work of a few administrators at a single hospital.

The VA had big problems before Mr. Shinseki and Mr. Obama came along. In fact, the president campaigned on reform in 2008. There is no other way to describe events since 2009 than to say his campaign promises were forgotten as soon as he got into office. He hasn’t even had a meeting with Mr. Shinseki in two years.

When things go wrong on the scale of this appalling scandal, leadership needs to accept responsibility and step aside. Nobody ever gets fired in the Obama administration, though, because of Mr. Obama’s purely political calculation that taking such action would keep a scandal alive, hand a victory to his Republican opponents, and make it harder for him to change the subject.

There were still gasps of astonishment when Mr. Obama gave a news conference on Wednesday and announced Mr. Shinseki would stay at his post for as long as he wanted to remain. The president went on to repeat all of the talking points from Mr. Shinseki’s last news conference, including the citation of statistics from the VA system about how much it has supposedly improved, when the entire subject of this scandal is falsified statistics.

It’s not just Republicans who think Mr. Shinseki needs to go. Democratic Rep. David Scott of Georgia was furious after Mr. Obama’s passive statement on the scandal. He said of Mr. Shinseki, “I respect his sacrifice, I respect what he did, but it’s under his watch that we are in this situation. Mr. President, we need urgency.”

Part of the problem is that Mr. Shinseki doesn’t look “madder than hell” about the scandal, and neither does Mr. Obama, even though both of them claim to be enraged. This is about more than just appearances, though. It’s absurd to retain the same leadership that presided over this crisis. The VA needs top-down reform, a high-pressure housecleaning. Instead, the president basically told Mr. Shinseki to investigate himself, and told everyone else to wait for some report to be issued in a month or two, before drawing any conclusions.

Mr. Scott is right to call for respect to Mr. Shinseki’s honorable military service. He got half his foot blown off in Vietnam. However, if he remains in charge of the Department of Veterans Affairs, we’re going to get more spin and damage control from this administration, not real change. That won’t entirely be Mr. Shinseki’s fault — he’s just following the lead set by Mr. Obama, who doesn’t think he should be held responsible for anything, and keeps claiming he doesn’t know what his administration has been doing until he reads about it in the newspapers. Mr. Obama’s not going anywhere for another 2 years, but Mr. Shinseki has to leave now. For those reasons, Eric K. Shinseki is the Bully Of The Week.

Rusty Humphries, a nationally syndicated talk-radio host, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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