The latest scandal is, in short, that dozens of veterans died from lack of care, when their needs were postponed, and the long wait times were hidden, possibly so that the books looked better and the division could “earn” efficiency bonuses. It’s been in the news the past couple of weeks. It wasn’t going away. People feel kind of strongly against letting our war heroes die of bureaucracy.
|Matt Groening cartoon, found here|
Finally Wednesday the president did the brave thing and gave a speech about it. This was no collection of off-the-cuff remarks. He made use of the entire week-plus to write down his thoughts, and calculate their effect to do the most good. And he carefully read them from the teleprompter so as not to cause any undue confusion about his meaning.
Before we begin, may I suggest, it would be appropriate to re-read the transcript with a combination of voices: Ted Baxter, from the newsroom on the Mary Tyler Moore Show; Captain Renault, the character in Casablanca, who is “Shocked! Shocked! To find that gambling is going on here” moments before accepting his winnings; and a lengthy list of politicians (including this president) who choose the passive voice construction, “mistakes were made.”
The president expressed his strong displeasure—with the allegations being tossed around. His precise words:
So when I hear allegations of misconduct—any misconduct—whether it’s allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it. Not as Commander-in-Chief, but also not as an American. None of us should. So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it -- period. [emphasis mine]
What won’t he stand for? Hearing allegations of any misconduct. “It” is dishonorable; “it” is disgraceful, meaning allegations, apparently (or possibly only true ones he'd rather were not made) which he will not tolerate—“period.” And that “period” word, we know from experience with this president—“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period”—means something other than “and that’s final,” which it could so easily be mistaken for by the rest of us.
Remember, these are the carefully crafted words he chose to read after many days of wordsmithing. So we should assume he means to say them. He simply will not tolerate allegations.
In his carefully crafted speech, he made first, second, and third points, followed by “number four” and a “final point.” They are, in summary:
1) Anyone found guilty of falsifying records will be held accountable, in such ways as being put on administrative leave (possibly paid?) To find out if anyone is guilty is the purpose of beginning an investigation, with no known facts yet.
2) The president himself (“I”) wants to know “the full scope of this problem,” meaning the allegations previously referred to? Or possibly actual wrongdoing if any is eventually uncovered. Toward that end, he has ordered VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (hereafter referred to intimately as “Ric,” even though the president hadn’t met with him for more than two years) to investigate the organization he leads and has an incentive to make look better than it is.
3) The president has assigned Rob Nabors, Deputy Director of the Office of Management & Budget (hereafter referred to intimately as “Rob”) “to conduct a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration—the part of the VA that delivers health care to our veterans. And Rob is going to Phoenix today,” where the specific allegations occurred. (Nonsequitur intended?)
a. And as a sub-point, the president reminds us that getting care to veterans has been a problem for decades.
i. And as a sub-sub-point, the president reminds us that he campaigned on this important issue, and during his 5 ½ years in office, he and his people “have been working really hard” to fix these problems. (In case you want to know what government health care will look like after 5 ½ years of these expert bureaucrats working really hard on it, consider this a preview.)
4) The president welcomes Congress, in their oversight role; however, he warns us all that this shouldn’t be a “political football” because so many veterans are getting care.
5) We must remain focused (as he supposedly has been all along) on the overall mission of getting care to veterans.
a. We’ve made progress.
i. Historic investments (despite significant cutbacks in military spending?)
ii. Boosted funding, that is consistent and reliable.
iii. 2 million new veterans got veterans services in the last 5 years. (I don’t know what this means exactly, but I was able to learn that 5.4 million of current veterans are those who served between the 1991 Gulf War and 2012. And 1.8 total veterans are age 35 or younger. So claiming a sudden influx since 2008 is probably an exaggeration.)
iv. Have given disability to those exposed to Agent Orange during Vietnam. (VA has offered health services for those exposed during Vietnam, up through about 1971, but has long tried to deny treatment for later exposure when the contaminated aircraft continued to be used. An independent study released in February contradicted the VA’s claims.)
v. The president claims there have been improvements (undefined) in ease of getting treatment for PTSD and other mental disorders, and care for women.
vi. “In the past year alone the backlog has been slashed by half” (unless the allegations of falsifying records to make backlogs seem less are actually true).
vii. The VA has been reducing homelessness, helping with education through the GI bill (ongoing since WWII), and Michelle and Jill are somehow personally helping veterans find jobs.
viii. To restate the final point, “caring for our veterans is not an issue that popped up in recent weeks”; we could easily just say this is Bush’s fault.
Then he took questions briefly. He said responsibility lies with him, and there will be accountability (undefined). Ric will keep his position unless-and-until he feels unable to do the job, because he’s been doing such good work thus far. (Watch for this assessment to change in coming days; remember Reverend Wright.) He did not respond to the question about whether the allegations were a surprise to him, but according to an earlier press briefing, Jay Carney said the president learned about it when he read it in the paper, as is so common with this administration, and he’s “Shocked! Shocked!” that there could be such allegations.
So, in summary, there will be an internal investigation of the suspects done by the suspects, and some begrudged oversight from Congress will be allowed. The president defends the hard work and caring he’s accomplished with his laser-like focus on veteran care thus far; he sees no problem here, just unfounded allegations. People under investigation are already on (paid?) administrative leave. And that’s just about as tough as it needs to get. You can take his word for it. He won’t stand for it—i.e., these allegations—period.