VA death sentences are policy, not incompetence

President Obama just fired/accepted the resignation of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki in the hopes of quelling the budding political problem he faces over the VA health scandal, but the truth is that the real scandal is that denial of health services is actually government policy, not administrative incompetence.

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Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney spoke very carefully when he indicated that Obama knew about the denial of veterans' health services scandal that is engulfing his Administration.

Clarifying the question before he answered, Carney said: "If you mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your network out of Phoenix, I believe we learned about them through the reports. ... [T]hat’s when, as I understand, Secretary Shinseki learned about them."

That initial narrowing of the scope of the question to just the Phoenix VA center is both disingenuous, and instructive.

It is disingenuous because it would have the public believe that CNN was working on a story involving veterans being denied service, resulting in deaths, and incredibly, the cable news giant never contacted the VA public affairs office in Washington for a comment. Since this presumption is not believable on any level, the public must then assume that a highly explosive allegation from a major news network that has been supportive of the president never percolated to either the secretary’s office or the White House.

For an administration which has developed a reputation for riding herd on reporters trying to spin and suppress any story that might put them in a bad light, campaign-style crisis management is the one thing Team Obama is really good at. Yet, somehow Carney is selling that the CNN story on the localized Phoenix scandal somehow never made it to anyone's attention until the president and his now former BFF, Shinseki, learned about it from watching TV. Anyone who buys this line has simply not been paying attention.

However, the bigger indictment of Obama's veterans' health policy is found when comparing Carney's deliberate narrowing of the scandal to Phoenix, in light of revelations that there have been at least 26 health centers denying services for thousands of veterans.

When one location engages in conduct, it is isolated. When that same conduct permeates the system across regions, it is policy.

Given that the incoming Obama administration was briefed on the VA waiting-time issues before they ever assumed office, it is reasonable to ask, why they did not take action to fix it?

It is equally reasonable to ask if the answer can be found in Obama's signature health care reform legislation, for which its proponents, like Paul Krugman, used the VA Health System as the example to debunk concerns about government-run health care.

The harsh truth is that Obama could not politically afford to admit that the VA has been doing to veterans exactly what opponents of ObamaCare, like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), charged would happen to the rest of us under his new healthcare law.

If it is proven that Obama administration officials made politically based decisions that led to system-wide death lists for veterans, the question is: What should Congress do about it?

Manning (@rmanning957) is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government. Contact him at rmanning@getliberty.org.