Heres how you can tell theres a serious problem at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: The Obama administration is finally admitting it.
For several years, the president and his allies boasted of improved performance at the second-largest federal department, talking of major funding boosts and expanded access to VA services as a point of pride.
But the facts finally got in the way. The departments bureaucratic dysfunction, incompetence and corruption have been laid bare in a patient care scandal that has engulfed the VA.
Veterans and taxpayers are now all too aware of how the VAs service mission has been hijacked by long wait times for health care, backlogged benefit applications, phony wait times and abusive behavior. And they recognize that while the situation is not a new development, it has grown measurably worse over the past five years.
A White House report prepared in June illustrates how the Obama administration can no longer obscure the truth behind a cloud of happy talk. Even if it took too long, we should welcome that report as a first step toward candor.
A corrosive culture has led to personnel problems across the Department that are seriously impacting morale and by extension, the timeliness of health care, the report reads. The problems inherent within an agency with an extensive field structure are exacerbated by poor management and communication structures, distrust between some VA employees and management, a history of retaliation toward employees raising issues, and a lack of accountability across all grade levels.
For veterans in North Carolina, none of this is news. Too many are well aware of the VAs dysfunction and poor service from experience.
Thats certainly true in Fayetteville, which has the longest wait times for care in the state, according to a VA audit released in May. Fayetteville-area veterans were found to wait an average of 83 days close to three months for a physicians appointment.
Its not just North Carolina. The steady series of news reports about VA failures reflects a nationwide crisis. And its veterans and their families who are paying the price for the VAs failure. A Senate report published in June estimated that over the last decade, as many as 1,000 veterans might have died as a result of delayed or shoddy care.
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed separate reform bills to bring greater accountability, transparency and patient choice to VA, which is an important first step. As veterans, we should thank our representatives in Congress who have supported these reform measures.
But we shouldnt stand by and wait for Washington to fix the VA. After all, the VAs problems didnt arise overnight, and they wont be fixed quickly. The process of repairing whats broken will be long and difficult, and there will be those who resist reform in order to protect the dysfunctional status quo. North Carolinas military veterans, along with our families and supporters, should be banding together to continue pressing for the change we expect.
On Saturday, Concerned Veterans for America will host a special meeting to gather additional input from veterans and taxpayers on next steps for VA reform. The goal is to keep up the pressure for real reform to restore the VA to its mission of serving the needs of veterans, not bureaucrats.
Friends or family members of a veteran or active duty service member and those who just want to show support all are welcome.
As bad as things have gotten at the VA, it is still possible for the department to embrace an ethic of service to veterans, greater choice and flexibility for patients and accountability for VA employees. Veterans in North Carolina and nationwide must work together to ensure that ideal becomes a reality.
Tristan Scott, a five-year Army veteran who served one tour in Iraq, is a student at Campbell University, where he serves as chairman of the Campbell University Student Veterans Club. He also is the vice chairman of the Town of Angier Planning Board.