Publishers Notebook: What we don't get from the VA for $153 billion

All you need to know about the problems with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is in the middle of a recent congressional bill that will dump another $17 BILLION into its failed health care system over the next three years.

“The legislation will give the VA secretary authority to fire immediately poor-performing senior executives. They would have seven days to appeal, with final resolution 21 days later.”

In other words, the VA secretary currently does not have the authority to do that, which essentially means we have had a government agency with a $153 BILLION annual budget employing more than 300,000 people whose senior management has had little or no accountability.

Any questions so far?

The fact that we actually had to include that sentence in a bill that will add another $10 BILLION to the federal deficit makes me sick enough to want to go the VA hospital, if I could get an appointment within the next six months.

In typical government fashion, the thought process believes that the VA’s problems can be traced to money and that all we need to do is dump another $17 BILLION into it and … boom … problem solved.

Our public school system operates with the same mind-set. “Spend more money and the kids will be smarter.”

Unfortunately, we are spending more than $15,000 per student per year on our public schools and America seems to be getting dumber by the day.

There hasn’t been any accountability there, either.

Math isn’t my strong suit, but my math tells me we are spending plenty to care for our veterans. This year, the VA was projected to spend $153 BILLION to care for 6 million veterans. That’s … hold your breath … $25,500 per veteran.

And the VA employee-to-veteran ratio leads you to believe that staffing is not the problem, either. More than 300,000 employees ought to be able to handle 6 million veterans (20 veterans per employee), especially when you consider that the 300,000 employees work every day and most of those 6 million veterans served last year did not require daily attention.

Most private hospitals would kill for an employee-to-patient ratio like that, which is why some started to wonder why it took 78 days to complete a disability review for a disabled veteran.

You can get a lot done in 78 days if you put your mind to it. In fact, you can get a lot done in 78 days even if you don’t put your mind to it, and if you can’t determine the eligibility of a disabled veteran in less than 78 days with 300,000 employees, you should be fired, not given more money.

So it’s good to hear this $17 BILLION emergency VA funding bill at least allows that to happen in 21 days ­— maybe.

If the Department of Veterans Affairs were a private business, it would have fired its CEO long ago and hired a new one, who would probably have come in and cleaned house.

When your customers and employees are saying you are doing a rotten job, it’s time to go.

Let’s take a look at the recent “Performance Report” for the VA hospital system, courtesy of CNN:

2006 — Two teens steal a laptop computer and external hard drive containing personal information for 26 million veterans.

2009 — VA sends letters to more than 3,000 who may have had colonoscopies at the VA center in Miami informing them that they may have been exposed to HIV. (Dear Mr. Ackerman, Hope this finds you well and that your colon is in good shape. We regret to inform you that …).

2011 — Nine Ohio veterans test positive for hepatitis after routine dental work at an Ohio VA clinic.

2013 — CNN investigation shows that veterans are dying because of the long waits and delayed care at VA hospitals.

2014 — A retired VA physician tells CNN that the Phoenix Veterans health care system maintained a secret list of patient appointments, designed to hide the fact that patients were waiting months to be seen.

The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s performance record is flagged with red, highlighted by a survey in which 30 percent of its employees indicated they were instructed to falsify patient appointment records.

In an editorial last week, we said it was time for Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain to resign, something she indicated she has no intention of doing.

That’s up to her.

We can only hope the latest congressional bailout will provide the leverage her bosses seem to require in order for the decision to be made, with or without her consent.

Our soldiers have always operated with accountability. Every military officer knows the consequences that come with duty and responsibility. History is littered with good men and women who have been relieved of duty for failure to meet the expectations of their superiors and themselves.

It’s about time we held the civilian executive officers charged with caring for our veterans to that same standard.

• News-Review Publisher Jeff Ackerman can be reached at 541-957-4263 or

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The News-Review Updated Aug 10, 2014 03:14PM Published Aug 10, 2014 12:06AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.