Pro­files In Prob­lem Solv­ing: Oba­macare vs. The Depart­ment Of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs

The Washington Times Daily - - Life -

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jeff Miller (R-FL)

Mere weeks af­ter prob­lems started sur­fac­ing with Health­care.gov – the most vis­i­ble pub­lic sym­bol of Oba­macare – the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was clearly do­ing ev­ery­thing it could to fix the em­bat­tled web­site.

Pres­i­dent Obama con­vened his top ad­vi­sors for an Oval Of­fice meet­ing to chart the way for­ward and ap­pointed en­tre­pre­neur and for­mer bud­get of­fi­cial Jef­frey Zients, who the Wash­ing­ton Post de­scribed as “Pres­i­dent Obama’s weedwacker,” to lead the re­pair ef­fort. Obama ad­dressed the is­sue head on dur­ing an Oct. 21 press event, when he said peo­ple are “work­ing over­time, 24/7,” to fix the site and that, “we’ve had some of the best IT tal­ent in the en­tire coun­try join the team. And we’re well into a ‘tech surge’ to fix the prob­lem.”

But the size, scope and ur­gency of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to right the course of Health­care.gov stands in con­trast to its hands-off ap­proach to the string of prob­lems at the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

Af­ter decades of mis­man­age­ment, VA is strug­gling to deal with a host of se­ri­ous is­sues that are neg­a­tively im­pact­ing vet­er­ans and drag­ging the depart­ment’s rep­u­ta­tion through the mud.

As of Nov. 2, the VA back­log – the num­ber of VA dis­abil­ity com­pen­sa­tion claims pend­ing for more than 125 days – stood at more than 400,000. And while the depart­ment has made some progress chip­ping away at the prob­lem over the last few months, VA still missed its fis­cal year 2013 claims pro­cess­ing goal by nearly 100,000.

Mean­while, claim ap­peals have risen by more than 15,000 since the back­log be­gan to shrink in early April, rais­ing ques­tions about whether the depart­ment is sim­ply mov­ing some back­logged cases from one queue to another.

But VA’s prob­lems go be­yond the back­log. Amer­i­cans have watched in dis­be­lief as news re­ports of pre­ventable vet­eran deaths at VA med­i­cal cen­ters across the coun­try have sur­faced over the past year. At least 17 vet­er­ans are dead from lapses in care VA’s own in­spec­tor gen­eral has at­trib­uted to mis­man­age­ment or neg­li­gence.

Through it all, a shocked pub­lic has learned that the VA ex­ec­u­tives who presided over ex­po­nen­tial in­creases in the back­log and un­timely vet­eran deaths are more likely to have re­ceived cash bonuses than any sort of pun­ish­ment.

Though VA’s prob­lems had been fes­ter­ing for years un­der both Demo­crat and Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions, many were hope­ful when Pres­i­dent Obama de­cided to dis­cuss the chal­lenges fac­ing Amer­ica’s re­turn­ing he­roes at the 2013 Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans con­ven­tion last Au­gust. I, for one, was dis­ap­pointed with the pres­i­dent’s speech.

To be clear, Pres­i­dent Obama was right to speak di­rectly to vet­er­ans. But his Aug. 10 ad­dress was no­table for what he didn’t say.

The pres­i­dent made no ref­er­ence to the oft-cited 2015 goal VA has set for end­ing the back­log, even though he is the only per­son with the power to make sure VA lives up to its word. He did not pledge to en­sure VA and Depart­ment of De­fense co­op­er­a­tion in de­vel­op­ing a joint, in­te­grated elec­tronic health record, even though there is near uni­ver­sal agree­ment such a step would help shrink the back­log. And the pres­i­dent did not men­tion any ac­tions he is tak­ing to ad­dress VA’s well-doc­u­mented lack ac­count­abil­ity for fail­ing ex­ec­u­tives – an is­sue con­tribut­ing to many of the depart­ment’s most se­ri­ous chal­lenges.

As com­man­der-in-chief, Pres­i­dent Obama is the only per­son in a po­si­tion to hold VA lead­ers di­rectly ac­count­able, and his lead­er­ship and per­sonal in­volve­ment is es­sen­tial to solv­ing th­ese prob­lems.

Ob­vi­ously, the mount­ing com­pli­ca­tions with Oba­macare, a law that will af­fect al­most ev­ery Amer­i­can, de­serve im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion. But shouldn’t the ad­min­is­tra­tion treat the is­sues plagu­ing VA – an agency charged with de­liv­er­ing ben­e­fits and ser­vices to more than 20 mil­lion Amer­i­can vet­er­ans – with a sim­i­lar sense of ur­gency?

Mr. Pres­i­dent, we know your ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to fix­ing Health­care.gov by Novem­ber 30. What about a per­sonal com­mit­ment from you to end the back­log by 2015, just as VA lead­ers have promised?

Mr. Pres­i­dent, now that you’ve in­sti­tuted a “tech surge” to rem­edy the prob­lems with Health­care.gov, how about a sim­i­lar surge to en­sure VA and DoD pro­duce a joint elec­tronic health record in­te­grated across all VA and DoD com­po­nents?

Mr. Pres­i­dent, since you put a proven prob­lem solver in charge to bring ac­count­abil­ity to the Health­care.gov re­pair ef­fort, per­haps you could in­stall some­one with re­lated skills at VA to put a stop to the pat­tern of pre­ventable deaths at VA med­i­cal cen­ters and en­sure that depart­ment ex­ec­u­tives are held re­spon­si­ble – rather than re­warded – for their mis­takes.

Is it too much to ask for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to tackle the prob­lems at VA with the same un­re­lent­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion it’s di­rect­ing to­ward Health­care.gov? I think not. The ques­tion is, does Pres­i­dent Obama agree?

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