A former Pentagon official says the history of the Veterans Administration is littered with stunning examples of waste and incompetence and the latest allegations of delayed care, secret wait lists and multiple sets of books at VA institutions only takes it to a new level.
Van Hipp, Jr. served as deputy assistant Secretary of the Army for Reserve Forces and Mobilization in the George H.W. Bush administration during the Gulf War. He is now chairman of American Defense International. He says the VA is a clear example of what Obamacare will look like on its present course but insists it doesn’t have to be that way.
“The military runs a separate hospital system for the active duty military and their dependents, just like the VA runs a hospital system. The military system is much more efficient. What’s sad is I’ve seen case after case after case where the military would develop medical technologies that they’re using in the hospitals and they’re using to take care of soldiers and their dependents. They would literally try to give this stuff to the VA and they would turn it down,” said Hipp.
“I was shocked. They would turn down things that the military was always trying to give the VA so they could go out and reinvent what the military had and charge the taxpayers to build a separate system. I think you’re seeing the result of a lot of that right now,” said Hipp.
The VA is tasked with the care of tens of millions of veterans, and the numbers have risen greatly in recent years as a result of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hipp says that may be a factor but it’s only making an existing problem worse.
“There’s no question they’ve been overloaded, but you know what? There are things they could have done in management tools and things and technologies they could have put in place to help speed up the whole disability process and they haven’t done it. They’ve had opportunities to prevent these kinds of problems for a long time, ” said Hipp, who says poor leadership over the years definitely plays a role.
“Extreme incompetence. There are a lot of good people over the years who have been in management there who’ve tried to do the right thing and they have been hindered by various laws and things (telling them) what they can’t do. Somebody needs to go in there and lead,” he said.
Hipp does give President Obama credit for the recent appointment of former USO Chairman Sloan Gibson to be deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“This happened a few months ago, which tells me they knew about this problem before. The new deputy secretary of the VA is a good guy and the kind of person they should be putting in there and should have been putting in there a long time ago,” said Hipp. “He’s a West Point grad. He’s a military man, but he’s also been in the private sector. He’s been a successful banker. So he brings that unique set of management skills to the VA. That;s the kind of person they need to put more and more in these key management positions.”
On Wednesday, Obama said he would wait for the inspector general’s report before determining exactly what happened at the Phoenix VA and other veteran facilities where secret delays and multiple sets of books were alleged to take place. Hipp says there should be a thorough investigation of this crisis but believes some changes could be made right away.
“The fact that there are problems in the VA, this is not news. I’m not surprised this has been going on. This time last year we were talking about the tremendous backlog of the disability claims, that they were taking months and months and months,” said Hipp. “I wouldn’t wait on the IG report. They need a plan of attack right now.”
Hipp also believes Congress can play a role in streamlining the massive bureaucracy that is grinding the VA to a near halt.
“One of the things I think they’ve asked for is to give the secretary more authority to fire people and get around some of the problems with employee unions. Give him more authority to fire incompetence on the spot,” said Hipp.