- - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Anyone who calls themselves an American must be stunned and outraged at the news coming out of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

In case you haven’t heard, it has been reported that at least 40 veterans in the Phoenix area died while waiting many months for treatment at their local VA hospital. According to whistleblower reports, there was systematic and institutionalized fraud in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, all designed to cover up the terrible backlog of veterans attempting to get medical attention.

Under VA rules, a veteran must be seen by a doctor within two weeks of requesting a visit. When veterans applied for medical assistance in Phoenix, their requests were never entered into the computer designed for that purpose and, instead, were kept in a secret file. As many at 1,600 veterans were relegated to that file.

So long as the veterans’ names were never entered into the computer, the clock didn’t start ticking on the two-week deadline. As a result, despite having a horrific track record of delays, the Phoenix VA facility would show a perfect record of timely service.

Some people are calling this shocking. I call it murder.

The brave whistleblowers that came forward to tell this story have apparently inspired others. Reports of similar abuses are coming out of Texas and Colorado. I fear this may well be just the tip of the iceberg.

While I can’t overstate how much this angers me, I also feel heartbroken for the ailing veterans and their families. Serving on the Board of Trustees of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, I have been hearing complaints about the VA for years. As a private citizen, I was invited by the military to see for myself what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. I listened to stories of valor and hardship both from military leaders and their troops. I have seen the perils they faced on a daily basis. Back in the United States, I have visited with many of our wounded warriors.

Our veterans deserve so much better than this. These are people who volunteered to be put in harm’s way. They sacrificed so we, as Americans, can live in the greatest country on Earth. The fact is, a significant number of our veterans require substantial health care attention upon their return. Sadly, these brave men and women came home to a country that shows its gratitude by failing to look out for their most basic needs.

So how are we dealing with this? With more hearings and more investigations.

All this means is that we’re signing the death warrants for even more veterans. Investigations breed more investigations. They hardly ever translate into the actions that fix the problems being investigated. This is at the heart of our dysfunctional government.

We know what to expect out of the congressional hearings — a lot of partisan posturing, plenty of finger-pointing and a host of promises to “get to the bottom” of the issue. How often do such hearings turn into meaningful action, though?

For his part, President Obama called for an internal investigation at the VA and an independent investigation by the office of the inspector general. Who knows how long these will take or how many more people will die while the executive branch tries to clean up its own mess?

We have investigated this for years, and nobody is happy with what they’ve seen. Mr. Obama knows there’s a problem. He must step up and do something about it, but it’s not just him. The secretary of defense, every member of the congressional oversight committee and everyone at the VA should mobilize. The time has come to stop “investigating” and start fixing.

Speaking of the VA, what about the fate of retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who heads the Department of Veterans Affairs? All of this is happening on his watch.

Mr. Obama has already weighed in on this with a vote of confidence for Mr. Shinseki. This not only sends the wrong message, it is an insult coming out of the mouth of the commander in chief. This isn’t the time for Mr. Shinseki to “look into” the issue. That should have been done long ago. He’s been on the job since 2009. Maybe he inherited problems in the VA, but isn’t five years enough time to do something about them?

Mr. Shinseki served our country proudly and well. However, as when any general can no longer lead effectively, it’s time to relieve him of his duty. Mr. Obama must not wait for endless hearings and debate to do the right thing. Now is the time for decisive action.

We need new leadership at the VA, and we need it now. As we saw in Phoenix, delays aren’t just inconvenient, they can be deadly.

Georgette Mosbacher is the CEO of Borghese and serves on the board of trustees of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

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