As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

Tag Archives: VA scandal

Obama Actually Drives Past Phoenix VA Hospital

Not only did he fail to visit, but President Obama today SPED RIGHT BY the VA hospital in Phoenix that was the epicenter of a scandal over long wait times for care.

As the scandal unfolded last year, Obama made pious statements about his commitment to reform the Veterans Affairs hospital system. When it was revealed earlier this week that he would be speaking at a location about a mile away from the hospital, veterans and Republicans, led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, called on him to pay a visit.

The White House indicated it wasn’t going to happen. But in a move that amounts to giving the finger to his critics, Obama’s motorcade actually drove past the facility without stopping.

To be fair, it isn’t clear Obama or his aides knew the route the motorcade would take.

It’s not as if Obama didn’t have time for unscheduled events. He met with former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, whose shooting has become a symbol for a topic Obama is passionate about, gun control.

Obama’s Inspired Choice for the VA

President Obama’s nomination of former Proctor & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs is a deft move that offers hope for our nation’s veterans, too many of whom who have suffered tragically and needlessly at the hands of the Veterans Health Administration.

What the president is trying to do, incredibly for him, is bring a serious dose of the private sector to the public and hope it can prod the VHA in the direction of greater efficiency and efficacy.

The VHA’s dysfunction is probably so great that the only way to truly serve our veterans’s health needs is to privatize their care through some kind of voucher system. But obviously, with this administration, that’s not going to happen. So McDonalds’ appointment is the best that can be expected.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest Monday explained the appointment cogently:

Mr. McDonald was principally chosen because he has the kind of record as a solid manager that will be required of the next Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department to put in place the reforms that are needed to live up to our covenant that we have made, that our nation has made, with our men and women in uniform.

Those management chops are going to be critical to his success, and they’re going to be critical to ensuring that our country lives up to the commitment that we’ve made to our men and women in uniform.

In choosing for our veterans, Obama opted to ignore that McDonald has contributed to Republicans, including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Speaker John Boehner, and even, yes, Mitt Romney.

The chief complaints against McDonald include that though himself a former Army captain, he’s not up to speed with Iraq and Afghanistan’s veterans. Well, he’ll get up to speed. The essence of a great executive is that their skills are not only abundant but transferable – that they can be working for Mastercard one day and Coca Cola the next.

McDonald Obama BidenMcDonald, Obama and Biden walk to the White House Monday

McDonald was also ultimately forced out at P&G, but only after climbing the ladder to the top and staying there for four years. The complaints about him seem to be more that he failed to come up with the next great shampoo than that he wasn’t a good manager. And management and restructuring will be at the core of McDonald’s mission at the VA.

He’s a man who understands how to maintain a grasp on a sprawling, unwieldy organization. True, he’ll be bumping up against Catch-22’s daily in government that he could never have imagined in the private sector. But he’s better equipped to deal with them than folks who have been in government too long and adapted to its ways.

He may be the best hope for now our veterans have of getting decent health care, and Obama should be applauded for choosing him

Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki Resigns

President Obama today announced that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned, saying Shinseki himself had come to the conclusion that he could no longer function effectively.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said that the resignation was based on “Rick’s judgement” and Shinseki’s belief that he would be a distraction:

He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problems with access to care, but as he told me this morning, the VA needs new leadership to address them.

He does not want to be a distraction, because his priority is to fix the problem and make sure our vets are getting the care that they need. That was Ric’s judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans. And I agree. We don’t have time for distractions; we need to fix the problem.

Obama seemed to minimize Shinseki’s culpability, saying Shinseki was “offended” information about the problems at the VA didn’t get up the chain of command to the secretary.

I think he is deeply disappointed in the fact that bad news did not get to him and that the structures weren’t in place for him to identify this problem quickly and fix it. 

But Obama was also careful to gently lay some of the blame on Shinseki:

This morning I think some of you also heard Ric take a truly remarkable action. In public remarks, he took responsibility for the conduct of those facilities and apologized to his fellow veterans and to the American people. And a few minutes ago, Secretary Shinseki offered me his own recognition. With considerable regret, I accept it.

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will take over as acting secretary, said Obama, who indicated someone else would be brought in as a permanent replacement.

Obama acknowledged that as president he bears responsibility, and then he immediately seemed to pass the buck, noting the VA’s problems predated him, saying he’d done much to help the agency, and blaming others for not bringing the issue to his or Shinseki’s attention.

This predates my presidency. When I was in the Senate, I was on the Veterans Affairs Committee. I heard first-hand veterans who were not getting the kinds of services and benefits that they had earned . . . 

And so, what I can say confidently is that this has been a priority. It’s been a priority reflected in my budget, and that in terms of managing the VA, where we have seen a problem — where we have been aware of a problem, we have gone after it and fixed it and have been able to make significant progress.

But what is absolutely clear is, this one — this issue of scheduling is one that the reporting systems inside of the VHA did not surface to the level where Rick (sp) was aware of it we were able to see it. This was not something that we were hearing when I was traveling around the country, the particular issue of scheduling.

Obama said changes will be needed at the VA, including a change of culture. But his focus seemed to be on throwing more money at the place, not a wholesale reform in the way veterans get their healthcare, as is being suggested by some Republicans.

“We may need to get more doctors and we may need to get more nurses,” Obama said.

Shinseki Apologizes but Gives No Hint He’ll Resign

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized publicly today for the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but suggested he was apologizing for the sins of others and gave no indication he is about to resign.

“Given the facts I know now, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Shinseki said, indicating that he has come to understand the “systemic” nature of the problem and charging that some at the VA had displayed an “indefensible” lack of integrity.

He said he would take new steps to hold people accountable.

Shinseki is meeting with President Obama this morning at the White House.

Carney Refuses to Say Obama has Confidence in Shinseki

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today carefully avoided saying that President Obama continues to have confidence in Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, suggesting a decision on whether he wants Shinseki to stay on will await an internal VA audit due by the end of the week.

“He expects to receive a preliminary report very soon and will be very interested in the results,” Carney said.

A new report by the agency’s watchdog finding a “systemic” problem with VA clinics lying about patient wait times appears to have worsened Shinseki’s position. Carney said Obama was “extremely troubled” by the report, which has sparked growing calls, including among some Democrats, for Shinseki’s removal.

Carney repeated statements made last week by President Obama commending Shinseki’s commitment and his work in areas not related to patient waiting times. But he also stressed Obama’s desire to round up more facts about what has happened at the VA.

Last Tuesday, when asked if Obama was satisfied with the job Shinseki is doing, Carney replied: “Well, he is. He is satisfied. He has confidence in General Shinseki.  But he has made it clear to, as I’ve said in the past, to the General and to others that he expects results as they try to tackle this very difficult issue of the backlog at the VA.”

But the following day Obama offered lukewarm support and but also suggested Shinseki may be held accountable

“As this stage, Rick is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it,” Obama said. “But I’m also going to be waiting to see what the results of all this review process yields. I don’t yet know how systemic this is.” 

Video || Koffler on TV Discussing the VA Scandal

Here’s my latest appearance on One American News Network’s Rick Amato show. It aired Wednesday night, and the questions focused – I know this will surprise you – on Obama’s remarks earlier in the day about the Veterans Affairs scandal.

OANN, the growing conservative news channel, started on AT&T just yesterday where it can be viewed on channel 208 and in high definition on 1208. It’s already on VerizonFiOS, channel 116 and 616 HD, and CenturyLink on channels 209 and 1209 HD. The Rick Amato Show airs 7pm PT and 10pm ET.

Anyway, here you go. I got a little worked up.

Three Reasons Why Obama Didn’t Dump Shinseki

President Obama’s decision not to fire VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is less mysterious than it seems. Here’s why he’s keeping him on:

  1. Obama is Shinseki, and Shinseki is Obama. Eric Shinseki assumed office the day after Obama did in 2009. For Obama to fire Shinseki at this point is to admit his own inadequacy and to reveal what I assume to be true: that Obama was not paying personal attention to the VA and not cracking the whip.
     
    You see, when the White House, and the president in particular, shows an interest in an agency or an issue, people get very nervous, and what is normally a cumbersome, immovable bureaucracy starts to creak to life.

    If Obama ever met with Shinseki one-on-one or even held a phone call with him, I’d be surprised.

  2. What happens once you fire Shinseki? Well, as the Julie Pace of the Associated Press points out in the video below, you have to replace him.

    And unless Obama replaces him with John McCain, that would mean weeks of heated discussion about the nominee, a heightened focus on the issue, and dramatic Senate hearings – all as we approach Election Day 2014. Not good for Obama and the Democrats.

    But Obama’s executive incompetence is showing. What the White House should do is sack Shinseki now, nominate a replacement next week, and insist Congress hold hearings immediately because of the urgent need to get someone to work on the problems. Then Obama might get the issue behind him well before summer is out.

  3. I think Obama feels bad for Shinseki. I really do. Everyone seems to agree that Shinseki, who had part of his foot blown off in Vietnam and served his country in the army for nearly 40 years, is a patriot and a decent man who cares about veterans. And he has made some progress with some of the VA’s system problems
     
    But caring is not enough. The issue is too big.
     
    Again, Obama does not know how operate as a chief executive. You have to fire people, even good people. There’s not a single major private company in America where Shinseki would be kept on after a fiasco such as this.

    The health of our veterans is more important than Eric Shinseki’s feelings.

Here are a couple of reporters I respect, Associated Press White House reporter Julie Pace and National Journal’s Ron Fournier, himself a former AP White House reporter, discussing Shinseki.

Fournier, who is tough but not prone to hyperbole, calls the White House “pathetic.”

What did (Obama) do? Like he did with a lot of other things – he didn’t pay attention, he didn’t govern. Now he’s holding nobody accountable.

Veterans on Earth, Obama on Mars

Here is the CNN reporter who broke the story of the shenanigans at the Phoenix VA office. He comes off not as the least bit partisan, but as sober and concerned. And he clearly was disconcerted Wednesday by the sound of a president who doesn’t seem, even now, to get what veterans want and need for him.

From remarks CNN’s Drew Griffin made right after Obama’s briefing room appearance:

What (veterans) did not want to hear is that we’re going to wait for yet again another office of inspector general report orosome fact-finding mission.

I was a little caught off guard by what apparently is a disconnect by what’s happening out in the country and what the president is talking about.

I hate to be curt, but these GAO reports, these Office of Inspector General reports, these memos dating back to 2010 and 2008 — this problem is real. It exists. It really doesn’t have to be studied as to what’s going on. The government has done its job studying these issues.

And to say that you’re going to now wait for yet again more studies to come back and more fact-finding to come back, I would think that the vets I’ve been talking to wanted much more direct action of what actually is going to happen going forward, instead of, “Wait and see and then we’ll decide what’s going to happen going forward.”

We’re five years into his presidency, and the problem seems to be certainly not better, and perhaps even worse.

Obama Tries to Dodge Blame in VA Scandal; Keeps Shinseki

A somewhat bedraggled and not particularly angry-looking President Obama took to the briefing room today to attempt to shirk blame for the burgeoning VA scandal, saying the problem began before him and touting the “progress” he has made fixing the various messes littering the agency. What’s more, he said he continues to support Veterans Affairs Secretary… Continue Reading

Video || Carney Caught Trying to Have it Both Ways

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was called out Monday for, on the one hand, asserting that the “investigation” at the Veterans Affairs Department must continue – a key defense for not firing Secretary Shinseki – and on the other suggesting that the resignation of VA Undersecretary Robert Petzel was related to the scandal. Carney… Continue Reading