Editorial: Veterans deserve better

May. 21, 2014 @ 11:28 PM

Veterans who put their lives at risk for their country deserved better than delays in treatment and, possibly, preventable deaths at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

They also deserve better, once the allegations were revealed, from their commander in chief, President Barack Obama. For him, four years of investigations were not enough for more decisive action, only strong words — his first in two weeks on the matter — of condemnation.

And they deserved better from Clay Aiken, the recent Democratic primary winner for the U.S. House District 2 of North Carolina that includes 70,000 veterans as well as Fort Bragg. On a major network morning show, Aiken blundered through a response to the developing crisis, admitting he “hasn’t paid attention.”

That such a scandal in care for our veterans is emerging is troubling enough without our president idling and an entertainer turned politician appearing inept on a subject relevant to such a significant population of our state.

What we know at this point is the VA Inspector General’s office is investigating 26 facilities across the country, up from 10 last week. At a Phoenix hospital, the allegation is 40 veterans died waiting for treatment while staff kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care.

A statement from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem points to four years of reports from the inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Special Counsel and Office of the Medical Investigator highlighting the problems within the Veterans Health Administration. He declared VA broken and said veterans want action. We do, too.

Burr and Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska brought forth legislation to prohibit payment of bonuses to employees in VHA through next year. The House passed a bill in February eliminating performance bonuses for the department’s senior executive staff through 2018. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, said VA officials are likely to get bonuses or glowing performance reviews rather than punishment.

Like Burr and others, we can see the connection in secret lists, delays in care and bonuses. Deaths as a result, if ultimately proven linked, would be unconscionable.

Reports are piling up. So is the evidence. Failure to take significant action is disappointing.

Our veterans deserve better.