Thursday, May 29, 2014

pity the VA bureaucrats

Members of Congress, especially those up for election this year, are joining the angry chorus calling for the firing of the head of the Veterans Administration, Eric Shinseki.  These are the same folks who demand that the VA do the impossible -- treat everybody promptly and be sure no money goes to people who aren't eligible. If the IG had discovered evidence of waste and fraud, the lawmakers would be calling for scalps just as loudly, but now the problem is gross inefficiency and bureaucratic workarounds -- exactly the same thing that was documented by the VA in 2010 when senior officials warned supervisors to watch out for such behaviors.

Clerks who falsified records deserve no pity, but others in the VA deserve our sympathy for trying to do a tough and growing job with a gun at their heads.  Ezra Klein and his group at Vox have put together some useful information on the scandal, including this interview with author, Philip Longman, who studied the VA system and reported the high satisfaction [93%] users have. He also notes:
The metric here is they tried to get vets in for non-urgent appointments for care within 14 days. Compare that to a survey done in 2009 on average wait times outside the VA to see a family physician. In Los Angeles, people waited an average of 59 days. In Boston, they waited an average of 63 days. In Washington DC, they waited an average of 30 days. The average wait time in major metropolitan areas is about 20 days. The VA is attempting to create a performance metric by which it would be substantially superior to the rest of the health-care system.
The problem in Phoenix is clearly bad, but it's one of getting an initial primary care appointment, not one for urgent care. That requires verifying the eligibility of the veteran, and that requires reviewing a lot of  service records, much of which is still on paper.

Veterans groups reject the Republican call for sending vets to private health care providers and hospitals because there is even less accountability and fewer performance standards -- and the costs are higher, thus squeezing funds for veterans' health care.

At least Congress isn't likely to do what it usually does when problems arise in an agency -- cut its funds severely. They can't do that because it would be viewed as a vote against vets.

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