It’s inexplicable how in the world this president and his administration are so slow to react to virtually every issue, from Benghazi to the IRS targeting to the first reports of the mishandling of so many cases by the Veterans Administration. How they can ignore this situation is confounding. And as this story further unfolds, the issue might not be whether heads roll and those responsible face serious charges, but rather why it has taken this long.
The VA office of inspector general has released an interim report that provided information suggesting that workers understated patient wait times to make their internal reporting look good at the facility in Phoenix. Some 1,700 veterans seeking medical care were told they were on a waitlist for appointments. In fact, there never was such a list.
There have been accusations that some 40 veterans have died while on alleged waitlists in Phoenix alone.
The same report, while focusing on Phoenix, suggested that a growing number of facilities are believed to have inappropriate scheduling practices throughout the VA system.
Now we wait to see if a president who has lost the respect of the international community for his bark followed by no bite, who has thumbed his nose at obvious abuse of the IRS and who has never owned up to the fiasco and cover-up surrounding the deaths of Americans serving our nation in Benghazi will finally have the backbone to clean house at the VA and unleash his Justice Department on a truly criminal matter.
As this column is written, the news is fresh. If by the time most read it, President Obama has not fired Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki nor asked for a criminal investigation from Attorney General Eric Holder, then Obama will have failed a nation and permanently destroyed his legacy.
There are rare moments when a leader must act impulsively, on basic, gut instinct. Not every issue can be studied to death like some interesting case law in a second-year law class. And upon occasion, a president must act out of true anger and act in a way that lets the American people know that he means it. For Barack Obama, zero hour has come. And even if it comes before other eyes read this commentary, it must be examined for its bluntness, its clarity and its force.
It won’t take more than a few days, or I dare say even hours, before other lawyers join me in wondering if the potential false statements, the detrimental reliance of those who suffered waiting for medical treatment and the alleged deaths that ensued amount to more than just slap-on-the-wrist crimes. Was this “only” a breach of the public trust by those who run the hospitals to treat our most honored heroes? Or was this perhaps negligence, resulting in the death of veterans who could otherwise have been saved or at least provided with alternative treatment?
Could all this have taken place without knowledge by VA employees of the massive fraud being perpetrated and the likely fatal results such deception would lead to? If not, then we go from the usual white lie, so pervasive and so ignored in recent years under this administration, to matters of homicide.
Yes, this whole situation could be just that serious.
And even as this news breaks, it comes as no shock to many following the story. And that begs the bigger question of why the White House has allowed VA Secretary Shinseki to defiantly remain in his position, even as the nation pays homage to our war dead on Memorial Day, with veterans suffering or dying all the while.
And just as important, to what level of winking and nodding, game playing and bureaucratic white washing has the federal government sunk to?
This is the final straw, and it will permanently decide how the Obama years are measured.
We will wait and see; that is, if our “waitlist” really exists!
Matt Towery is author of the book “Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency.”