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White House: “Corrosive Culture” at Veterans Affairs’ health care centers

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michaud va heearing

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, Ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, sits in on a VA Committee hearing.

Despite a “corrosive culture” and “chronic systemic failures,” the U.S. Veterans Affairs health care system provides excellent health care — if you can get an appointment.

That’s the chief take away from a June 27 White House report on the corruption scandal plaguing the government agency responsible for delivering health care to veterans of the U.S. military.

“There is a strong sentiment among many Veterans and stakeholders that in general VA provides high quality health care “once you get in the door” and that the current system needs to be fixed, not abandoned or weakened,” said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors in a memo. “However, I also believe that it is clear that there are significant and chronic systemic failures that must be addressed by leadership at VA.”

Perhaps the most alarming problem cited in the report is that of a “corrosive culture” that appears to have silenced potential whistle-blowers. Wrote Nabor, “A corrosive culture has led to personnel problems across the Department that are seriously impacting morale and, by extension, the timeliness of health care. The problems inherent within an agency with an extensive field structure are exacerbated by poor management and communication structures, distrust between some VA employees and management, a history of retaliation toward employees raising issues, and a lack of accountability across all grade levels.”

Although defenders of the VA and the Obama administration have tried to chalk the corruption scandal up to a lack of resources, the VA will reportedly carry over $450 million in surplus medical-care funding from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2015. The White House report added further confirmation that a lack of funding does not explain the agencies problems.

“VA has also demonstrated an inability to clearly articulate budgetary needs and to tie budgetary needs to specific outcomes,” said Nabor.

Although Maine’s top newspapers have been reluctant to thoroughly cover the VA corruption scandal as it unfolds, national news outlets have continued to dig up unflattering stories from VA care centers across the country.

A Boston news outlet reported this week that Doug Chase, a Vietnam veteran, got an appointment scheduled at a Massachusetts VA hospital two years after he died from a brain tumor in August of 2012.

A report¬†from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said as many as 1,000 veterans may have died as the result of bad or delayed care in the VA system. There is even evidence, according to one whistle-blower, that the VA center in Phoenix may have covered up veterans’ deaths.

The mounting scandal shows no signs of leaving the headlines this summer, and that has big implications for Maine’s gubernatorial race.

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, a Democratic candidate for governor, has served for 12 years on Congresses Veterans Affairs Committee and is now the ranking Democrat.

When asked by The Maine Wire whether he accepts any responsibility for the corruption scandal, Michaud dodged the question, stating that it was not a “political issue.” But newspaper editorial writers have disagreed.

An editorial in the Ellsworth American newspaper went as far as to call on Michaud to resign his Congressional seat, while an editorial in the liberal Portland Press Herald said Michaud is one of “a number of people who should have noticed the system’s issues and pushed for reform sooner.”

Michaud’s opponents, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, have both said the congressman failed to provide adequate oversight of the VA health care system and that this failure does not reflect well on his potential ability to govern the state of Maine.

Despite Michaud’s objections, the Press Herald wrote that the scandal “is, however, relevant to the campaign.”

Read the full White House memo here:

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson the editor of The Maine Wire. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College.

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