When a scandal erupts in Washington, it spawns a circular firing squad. The unfolding drama over new reports of false record-keeping and long waiting lists for treatment within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' medical system is proving to be no exception.
The facts are bad: Not only is there evidence that veterans died while waiting for care—often simple procedures like colonoscopies—whistleblowers at some VA hospitals claim that officials kept secret lists to cover up the outrageous wait times.
You know things have really gotten out of hand when allegations of evidence shredding get tossed around. A doctor who recently retired from a VA hospital in Phoenix says that administrators, seeking to evade the VA policy that requires hospitals to provide care to their patients in a timely manner, shredded soldiers' requests for appointments and told staff not to enter their information into the computer system.
Investigative reporters for CNN broke the story in late April (and apparently used the network's much-mocked obsession over the missing Malaysian airplane to buy some time to finish their reporting). Since then, calls for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, have been steadily growing.
Pretty much everyone seems to think that heads should roll. But there is a lot of disagreement about whose head should be offered up. President Obama, who promised yesterday that "people will be held accountable" for the manipulated records, failed to specify who those people should be. He also defended Shinseki, who is apparently "mad as hell" about what's been happening in his hospitals.
Meanwhile, the GOP may have found themselves a real scandal—one with more weight than #Benghazi. Republicans in the Senate and the Househave been demanding Shinseki's resignation for several weeks. Some Democrats followed suit earlier this week, expressing their disappointment with Obama's lack of "urgency."
Others argue that it's too difficult to fire senior executives at the VA. The House approved legislation yesterday that would make it easier to sack federal workers.
And of course, there were the inevitable comparisons to Obamacare. Sarah Palin, drawing on all of her clairvoyant power, declared that VA scandal augurs the future of the Affordable Care Act if Democrats aren't kicked out of office.
But some—like our own Paul Waldman—pointed out that the revelations themselves are a good thing. There's a problem at the VA, and it needs to be fixed. If a media frenzy is what it takes to make sure veterans are getting adequate care, maybe it's worth a little embarrassment for the Obama administration. If nothing else, it's a good opportunity for Democrats to prove that they actually can make government work.
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