The Tired Game of Obama Scandal Management

While most Americans know very little about it, there is another scandal facing the Obama administration. The substance of the newest outrage is as disturbing as any previous one, if not more so. But as the White House is employing the same strategy it has used in addressing all the other scandals and allegations of impropriety, in all likelihood this too shall pass with President Obama suffering very little damage.

The scandal at hand involves the Department of Veterans Affairs. American veterans are afforded certain benefits for enlisting in the U.S. Armed Services, including health care provided by the Veterans Health Administration, or the VHA. The level of coverage and out-of-pocket costs are usually tied to whether these veterans have a service-connected disability or not, and how serious said disability is.

It is important to point out that these are benefits veterans have earned. They aren’t entitlements like Obamacare or Medicaid, even though they are administered through the government. Rather, they can better be described as medical benefits given a salaried employee as part of a compensation package. Our soldiers are salaried, and these benefits, along with the regulations governing them, are part of what we promise them in return for laying their lives on the line to protect our liberties.

The VA requires that its medical facilities, including its hospitals, provide care within 14 to 30 days from the date requested. But in some facilities, they have found a clever way around this, and their cleverness has had fatal consequences.

In Phoenix, Arizona, a separate list was maintained of veterans who had attempted to make an appointment. That information was not entered into the system. Instead, a list was compiled of all those who were seeking appointments. They would then use this information many weeks later to make appointments for the veterans in order to give the appearance of the appointment being given within the required 14–30 day time frame.

According to Dr. Sam Foote, a former 24-year employee of the Phoenix system, the secret list currently has somewhere between 1400 and 1600 veterans waiting for a primary-care physician appointment. This resulted in veterans not getting the medical care they require and deserve. Foote himself is aware of at least 40 vets who died as a result of having their care delayed.

As more and more information is coming out about these abuses, it is starting to look as if this is not something that only happened in Phoenix, but at VHA locations around the country.

In May of last year, when news of the IRS targeting conservative groups broke, the president responded by saying, “It’s inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it.” It was his expression of shock and anger that convinced Americans that he was taking the scandal seriously and would really get to the bottom of it.

Similarly, in this case, the president is said to be “mad” about the abuses at the VA, and, to quote his chief of staff, is “working aggressively to ensure that … people are held to account.”

If that sounds familiar as well, there’s a very simple reason. In the same statement where the president said he was angry about the IRS abuses, he said that he “will do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again by holding the responsible parties accountable.”

So if the steps taken so far in approaching the VA issue are the same as the ones taken during the IRS scandal, how can we expect the White house approach to unfold?

In the case of the IRS, the president made it very clear that he was demanding the resignation of acting commissioner Steven Miller as the beginning of his accountability crusade. What looked like essentially the firing of the top official at the IRS was a sign that President Obama was taking the issue very seriously. It soon became clear that this was far from the truth.

Miller had been planning on retiring from his post, and after resigning, stayed on to “be focused on an orderly transition.” It wasn’t even three months later that the president was dismissing the IRS scandal that he had gotten so “angry” about as a “phony scandal” and said that he had moved on. In December he classified what he had called “outrageous” in May as nothing more than a record-keeping snafu in a local office. “They’ve got a list,” he told political commentator Chris Matthews, “and suddenly everybody’s outraged.” And in February of this year he told commentator Bill O’Reilly that “[t]here were some bone-headed decisions out of a local office … Not even a smidgen of corruption.”

If the pattern holds, expect something similar to happen. Already, VA official Robert Petzel, who was “forced” to resign, was found to have been due to retire in less than a month — eerily similar to the Steven Miller resignation.

The Administration is desperately trying to move on from this as well, which is why White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough answers every accountability question posed to him by talking about “investments” made in veterans’ care —  things that have absolutely nothing to do with accountability or the issue at hand.

I guess it’s only a matter of time before the president dismisses it as a “phony scandal” and says that there wasn’t “even a smidgen” of wrongdoing. It really isn’t a big deal, he will say; all it is, is a case where “they’ve got a list, and suddenly everyone is outraged.”