July 19, 2014

President Obama has repeatedly said that he will not tolerate the mishandling of veterans care and will punish those involved.  He said the VA mismanagement is dishonorable and disgraceful.  The citizens in this country are creating a ground swell of rage at the way our veterans are being treated throughout the country, according to Ronald J Pawley.

Up to now, President Obama and congressional Democrats had thought “so-called” scandals involving Benghazi, the IRS, and Operation Fast and Furious were largely behind them.  Clearly, recent revelations about shoddy care at Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities across the country has brought bipartisan condemnation from Capitol Hill that should worry a commander in chief.

What is most surprising about the present controversy surrounding the substandard treatment at the VA, in which at least 40 veterans lost their lives while awaiting treatment, is that House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) had alerted the president to trouble  nearly a year ago. In a letter dated May 21, 2013, Miller began:

Dear Mr. President: I am writing to bring to your attention an alarming pattern of serious and significant patient care issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs) across the country. Recent events at the Atlanta, Georgia, VAMC provide a perfect illustration of the management failures, deceptions, and lack of accountability permeating VA’s healthcare system…I believe your direct involvement and leadership is required.

Since that time, the revelations of substandard care, neglect, and waste seem to have magnified, rather than been reduced.

Late last week, CNN’s Jake Tapper grilled White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on the lackluster attempts by the administration to address mismanagement issues—if not criminally negligent behavior—at the VA.  What I found revealing about the interview is the exchange where Tapper questions whether Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is up to the task at hand given that Miller warned the president a year ago about serious allegations of misconduct at the agency:

Thus far, President Obama and his team have regarded the scandalous treatment of veterans seeking care from the government over which they preside is unclear.  Recently,  McDonough assured that Obama is “madder than hell” about the VA fiasco.

Obama ran for president and asked Americans to hire him for another term based on his leadership skills, temperament, and ability to produce results.

Americans of all political persuasions stand in solidarity behind those brave men and women who don the uniform to defend us from those who seek to harm our country and our allies. The VA facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico is only the latest hospital to keep secret waiting lists—and to destroy documents revealing criminal misconduct.

A real leader stands up, accepts responsibility, and moves swiftly to fix management problems.  The American people will discover in short order whether the president steps up to lead our returning heroes in the military to ensure they receive the medical care they have earned. If he rallies behind the vets, he will be justly applauded—if he does nothing, the American people will be madder than hell at him for failing our veterans when they needed him the most.  I believe his standing with the American people – should he lead decisively would be most rewarding to him.

Ronald J. Pawley is a retired (1986) chief officer, incident commander, and hazmat professional in emergency chemical incidents at Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y.  Kodak Park was among the largest industrial chemical complexes in the northeast. The Kodak Park Fire Department was also considered one of the largest chemical fire- fighting organizations’ worldwide, providing fire prevention/protection for over 60,400 employees at Kodak Park.

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