VA System Redeemable Despite Problems


Dear Sgt. Shaft,

The recent news of patients at VA hospitals dying because they are unable to be scheduled for necessary appoints infuriates and saddens me. Those men and women who, over decades, have served our nation honorably deserve the best health care in the world. There are numerous VA hospitals in our nation and from what I can gather from the news media, there is a small percentage of these hospitals whose personnel have been cited for malfeasance.

Personally, I am familiar with only one VA Medical Center, that being in our nation’s capital. I have accompanied my husband, a disabled veteran, for numerous types of ailments, treatments and hospitalization over many years. I cannot shower enough accolades on the fine medical personnel and staff of every level for their dedication, friendliness, courtesy and professionalism. The system works like a family business – patients and caregivers acting in concert. That is not to say that there are no glitches, which there must be when so many diverse humans are interacting in one area. Furthermore, the service being provided for all is remarkable. I have not heard loud voices or grumbles but have seen many, many smiles and heard many good mornings.

This USA is the greatest nation in the world and is striving to do its best for the persons who have served. Hopefully, the glitches and malfeasance with soon be eradicated without rancor or finger-pointing. Best wishes and success to the next Secretary of the VA.

A grateful spouse Via the internet

Dear Grateful,

Unfortunately, the problem facilities make the news and leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It is disgraceful that some veterans have not received the quality of health care that they deserve, but the vast majority of veterans have been appropriately cared for by dedicated VA professionals.

Shaft Notes

• There seems to have been a positive response to the appointment of Robert McDonald as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

After the White House announced plans to nominate Robert McDonald for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement:

“If confirmed by the Senate, Robert McDonald will inherit a Department of Veterans Affairs under a specter of corruption that may very well surpass anything in the history of American government. In order to pave the way for serious and substantive reforms that will help VA to effectively deliver the care and benefits our veterans have earned, he’ll need to root out the culture of dishonesty and fraud that has taken hold within the department and is contributing to all of its most pressing challenges. Quite simply, those who created the VA scandal will need to be purged from the system. Personnel changes, however, won’t be enough. The only way McDonald can set the department up for long term success is to take the opposite approach of some other VA senior leaders. That means focusing on solving problems instead of downplaying or hiding them, holding employees accountable for mismanagement and negligence that harms veterans, and understanding that taxpayer funded organizations such as VA have a responsibility to provide information to Congress and the public rather than stonewalling them.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released a similar statement in response to McDonald’s nomination:

“We have seen over the last few weeks that the VA’s problems extend beyond wait lists at a few facilities. The White House report delivered to President Obama on Friday is the latest reminder of the large number of problems we are working together to address: from the immediate need to get veterans off wait lists and into a doctor’s office, to the longer-term needs such as addressing the VA’s culture and putting in place a healthcare system that can plan strategically for the influx of patients it will receive in the coming years. “I’m pleased that Bob McDonald has experience both in the military and as the leader of a large corporation – backgrounds which I believe would serve him well at the helm of the VA. But no one person is going to solve all of the VA’s problems – it’s something all of us must continue working on together in the weeks, months, and years to come.”

Representative Gus Bilirakis, Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, spoke in a similar fashion when he said:

“The problems at the VA are very serious, and they are negatively impacting Veterans across the country. Veterans deserve timely access to quality care, and in many cases, that isn’t happening right now. It is my hope that Mr. McDonald’s nomination will be the first step on the road to bringing back accountability and transparency to the dysfunctional agency. The VA needs to be about protecting and caring for the Veteran, not the bureaucrat.”

VFW National Commander William A. Thien. Commented that “Leadership, management and accountability are the only requirements the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States has ever demanded from the Department of Veterans Affairs,”

“The VA is experiencing a crisis in care and confidence, and whoever is confirmed as its secretary must immediately identify and fix what’s broken, hold employees appropriately accountable to the fullest extent of the law, and do whatever is necessary to restore the faith of veterans in their VA.

“Nominee Robert McDonald’s experience leading complex organizations will be a plus; since the VA is ultimately in the service industry and needs to be run like a business. However, the VA is also unlike any organization in the private sector because it’s led by political appointees in Washington but managed entirely by federal civilians in the field. We need a VA secretary who can change an organization with many internal loyalties into a culture where properly serving America’s veterans becomes the only definition of mission success or failure.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email

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