The VA’s Culture of Dysfunction: It’s Much Worse Than You Think


It doesn’t take a genius to realize the Department of Veterans Affairs is damaged and broken. The second largest agency in the U.S. government operates more than 1,700 facilities nationwide, employs more than a quarter of a million people, and enjoys a budget of more than $150 billion.

But instead is using those billions of taxpayer dollars to help struggling veterans, numerous examples show VA leadership often wastes that money on controversial projects and on annual bonuses for its employees, even while 22 veterans are committing suicide daily — often time while waiting for care at VA hospitals.

The culture of the VA is dysfunctional. President Barack Obama once pledged he would fix the ‘broken VA bureaucracy,’ but statistics show the organization’s ability to quickly provide care to veterans both young and old has declined since he first took office.

According to a 2013 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the average wait time for disability compensation is 273 days. Further data shows the wait time is nearly two months longer for veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, between 316 and 327 days. Even more troubling is the wait time in some of America’s largest cities — 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles, and 542 days in Chicago.

In a 2007 campaign speech, then-Senator Obama promised “comprehensive reform” of the VA.

“No veteran should have to fill out a 23-page claim to get care, or wait months – even years – to get an appointment at the VA. Caring for those who serve – and for their families – is a fundamental responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief. It is not a separate cost. It is a cost of war. It is something I’ve fought for as a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. And it is something I will fight for as President of the United States.”

Since the President first took office, the Department of Veterans Affairs has seen its funding increase by 68 percent. But examples like the hospital project in Aurora, Colo., which was recently found to be more than $1 billion over budget, show us the funding increases aren’t going to veterans or veterans programs. By the way, the Aurora VA hospital is estimated to cost a “shocking” $1.73 billion, more than five times its original $328 million estimate.

Secretary Robert A. McDonald was brought in by President Obama to confront and change the dysfunctional culture within the department, but Mr. McDonald has quickly discovered that changing a culture rooted in mediocrity is much harder than it looks. He has done much good since taking over the VA, but some would say it’s hard to steer a sinking ship.

I’m not blaming President Obama or Secretary McDonald for the VA’s failures, because the organization was broken long before they took over their respective duties. But, for a President who isn’t afraid to use the power of his executive authority, I’m a little disappointed he hasn’t used that same executive power to overhaul the beleaguered department. I mean, if we can grant citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants using the power of a pen, then surely we can grant our nation’s veterans a same-day doctor’s appointment.

Categories: Veterans

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