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Accountability: Consequences, change needed at VA

Observers of the furor over the handling of problem (often criminal) employees or representatives by entities such as the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts of America may wonder what in the world the Department of Veterans Affairs is thinking, in its own handling of a personnel crisis that seems clear cut.

Most recently, federal law enforcement has been called to investigate reports of multiple sexual assaults at the Beckley VA Medical Center. But not to worry:

“VA has made clear it will hold employees accountable when they fail to live up to the high standards veterans and taxpayers expect, and that’s exactly what happened in this case,” said hospital spokeswoman Sara Yoke.

Well, one person has been fired, anyway.

Meanwhile, in Clarksburg, federal investigators are trying to get to the bottom of the deaths of 11 patients — at least two of which have already been determined to have been homicides. But, again, not to worry. That facility told U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that a “person of interest” is no longer in contact with patients at the facility.

Somehow, neither action serves to put patients and their loved ones at ease.

It is a longstanding pattern for the VA. Back in 2014, when systemic negligence, incompetence and a total lack of urgency that likely led to the deaths of dozens of veterans in VA care came to light, Robert A. McDonald was brought in as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, he swooped in with promises of a return to integrity and accountability for the organization. Veterans were going to get the high-quality health care to which they were entitled, without having to worry that that they were not a priority, or that they were in danger.

Shortly thereafter, it was revealed McDonald had lied about his own military service, and though he claimed 60 VA employees had been fired because of the scandal, the New York Times discovered that at most three people had lost their jobs.

“Rather than disciplining bad employees, VA often just transfers them to other VA facilities or puts them on paid leave for months on end,” said former Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who was the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; and “Everyone knows accountability is a major problem at the department.”

Clearly. But as the government-controlled and taxpayer-funded organization veterans were promised would deliver healthcare for all of them, and for the rest of their lives, the VA’s criminally bad performance will likely have few consequences. It must exist. The government has declared it so.

Congress must find a way to implement real consequences and make real changes for the VA if it, like most of the rest of our bureaucracy, has decided it exists to serve itself, not the men and women who were willing to die — in combat, that is — for their country.

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