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Scandal is Nothing New at the VA

Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs

The current mess at the VA is just one more scandal in a long list of scandals that have plagued the VA.

The VA was created 84 years, in 1930, and scandals at the VA have made headlines in 27 of those years. The VA has been enmeshed in one scandal after another for one-third of the time that it has been in existence.

That’s one scandal every 3.1 years.

Yesterday, CNN ran a segment on the VA's troubled history that documented “shoddy care in VA-run hospitals” dating back to 1945.

Widespread instances of waste and poor care in the VA system are so common that only three Presidents have not had a VA scandal while they were in office: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Every other President, both Democrats and Republicans have presided over a scandal at the VA.

There were two VA scandals under President Herbert Hoover, and three VA scandals under President Harry Truman.

Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, and Carter only had one VA scandal during their time in the Oval Office.

While Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton had to deal with two VA scandals while they were President.

Ronald Reagan was President during three VA scandals.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama have each had five VA scandals during their administration.

It isn't the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble - it's the attempted cover-up.
Tom Petri

That doesn’t necessarily mean that scandals at the VA are more common now than they used to be. It may just mean that the internet has made it easier for the media to report on scandals.

Secretary Eric Shinseki isn’t the first retired Army four-star general to be overwhelmed by the job at the VA. In 1946, the American Legion called for the ouster of VA Administrator General Omar Bradley, one of the heroes of World War II, because hundreds of thousands of veterans were having trouble in getting services.

Sound familiar?

No matter how you look at it, the scandals at the VA are real and it isn’t hard to figure out why they happen so often.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the second largest government bureaucracy in the country. Only the Department of Defense is larger. The VA has 278,565 employees, and 247,113 of them work in the Veterans Health Administration.

By contrast, IBM has 434,246 employees, Hewlett-Packard has 331,800 employees, and General Electric has 305,000 employees.

Companies that employ approximately the same number of people as the VA include: Citigroup with 266,000 employees, Wells Fargo with 264,200 employees, J.P. Morgan Chase with 260,157 employees, AT&T with 256,420 employees, and FedEx with 255,573 employees.

General Motors has 207,000 employees in the US, Ford has 164,000 employees, and Chrysler has 65,535 employees.

The VA is larger than many of America’s largest companies.

Microsoft has 101,914 employees worldwide. Apple has 50,250 employees, while Google has 46,170. Facebook only has 6,818 employees.

Like any large bureaucracy, the VA employs some truly great people, some highly competent people, some people who just put in their 40 hours a week, and some people who are absolute bozos.

That’s the way it is in all large organizations from the military, to school systems, to major corporations.

The military is famous for hiding incompetent leaders, the big difference between the DOD and the VA seems to be accountability. Incompetent Generals and Admirals, Colonels and Majors lose their jobs when they screw things up.

People get killed, battles get lost, and then the brass gets shuffled upstairs and another officer seamlessly steps in to take command.

In business, incompetent leaders usually get fired before they bankrupt the company.

But in the VA, complaints about incompetent leadership and bad medical care seem to disappear into the Office of the Inspector General, and never come out again.

The waiting time for action on a complaint filed with the VA’s OIG rivals the waiting time that some veterans have encountered during the current scandal.

In many ways the VA is like America’s school systems. News reports about our broken school systems are common, but incompetent teachers and principals seem to hang around forever anyway.

Maybe if we can figure out how to fix the school systems, we can figure out how to fix the VA.

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