What will restore the people’s trust in the Department of Veterans Affairs? Transparency and a honest assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.
As journalists who cover the VA, we have to wonder if the VA remembers it’s the taxpayers who pay for the VA system. Because the people pay the bills, we should be able to get clear, honest answers about everything, except patients’ sensitive medical information, the VA does.
Too often, we get no specifics, no attempt at explanation in conversational terms. Instead, we hear a lot of sentences that start with “VA policy ...” .
It seems the VA is more interested in protecting the federal agency than providing answers to legitimate questions.
Does the VA realize it could improve its reputation by being more forthcoming?
Let’s consider an example. With the revelation nationwide that VA executives were receiving hefty performance bonuses, we inquired if Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain has received any bonuses since arriving at the Roseburg VA in 2011.
We were appalled to be told “As is the case with all government agencies, VA has regulations that prohibit the release of information about employees’ wages, or status.”
That’s not how it works. The salaries of those who work for the American taxpayer must be made public. Plenty of government employees in this county have witnessed us publish their salaries because it’s a matter of public record, and people want to know.
Many of the taxpayer-supported entities in this county have that information readily available in their budgets and posted on their websites.
At a time when the VA is under scrutiny for so many questionable practices, this is not the time to be withholding pertinent information from the public.
The VA should also consider whether its policies and practices are reasonable. The Roseburg VA was included in a scathing report titled “Friendly Fire: Death, Delay and Dismay at the VA” released last week by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, whose name has come forward as a possible successor to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The report criticized the Roseburg VA for employing social worker Jamie Carlson for 18 months after allegations of misconduct arose. In response, once again the Roseburg VA confirmed it followed VA policies in handling the investigation and eventual dismissal.
We understand the policy of treating employees fairly, but why did it take 18 months to come to a conclusion? We’ve never been told. But during that time, Carlson drew a $65,000 annual salary and was prohibited from working with veterans who were in need of counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Considering these examples of the VA’s approach, what will become of the twice-monthly report cards that now will be issued on patient wait times? Will they make a difference?
Don’t get us wrong, we realize how important the Roseburg VA is in this community — for the care of veterans and as a major employer. We know some veterans brag about the care the VA has provided.
But we also need it to be the VA that’s known for its openness and honesty.