The Veterans Affairs healthcare scandal continues to escalate, with a number of newsworthy developments hitting on Friday afternoon, then reverberating throughout the weekend. As VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and his deputy testified on Capitol Hill, another “isolated incident” came to light — this time in Florida:
Three mental health administrators at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville have been placed on administrative leave after U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials found a “secret” waiting list of more than 200 patients, a local union president said Thursday. The director of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, Thomas Wisnieski, however, said what officials found was a paper list of patients who needed appointment callbacks. That list isn’t considered proper protocol, Wisnieski said. Wisnieski said the list was not a secret waiting list, but he also said he did not know about it until a VA team discovered it while visiting the hospital Tuesday for a review…News recently surfaced of alleged secret waiting lists and falsified records at VA hospitals around the country, including reports of allegations that some veterans on such a list at the Veterans Affairs Health Care system in Phoenix had died while waiting for appointments. Reports have said the secret waiting lists were meant to hide delays and could have been used so management executives could get bonuses related to shorter wait times.
While Wisnieski splits hairs, Sen. Marco Rubio is demanding answers, and veterans’ groups are seeking accountability over this clear pattern of neglect and corruption. Shinseki has said he “takes responsibility” for what’s been revealed within the vast bureaucracy he runs, but Jim Geraghty reminds us how empty that phrase has been within the context of the Obama administration. Meanwhile, Robert Petzel — the VA higher-up who raised eyebrows last week by declining to commit one way or another on whether manipulating wait lists is a fireable offense — has resigned. Accountability? Not really. He was scheduled to retire in June, and his replacement has already been nominated. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough tried to dress it up as a meaningful “termination” in an interivew with CBS News, in which he described President Obama as “madder than hell” over the controversy (in response to which I’ll direct you to the bottom of this post). The Obama administration is clearly hoping to tamp down any political fallout for this scandal, which CNN calls “devastating,” and a “huge headache” for the president. National Journal wonders if this outrage may have more legs politically than other controversies that have roiled the administration: