The dust from the first Fox News presidential debate is starting to settle so hopefully America can begin to focus on the strengths and weakness of the Republicans who want to be the next commander-in-chief of our country. Unfortunately, moderators Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace did not live up to the trust and confidence they wished to instill in the process. The fact that many in the media are applauding their shallow, superficial lines of inquiry is testimony to the intellectual dry rot that passes for journalism today.
Of all the questions asked, nobody on the entire Fox production team thought of the 22 million American veterans who are being ill-served by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). No nation can ever repay the cost of war but America has developed the world's best support network for veterans. Unfortunately, that safety net has been torn apart by a greedy criminal element that has cheated and gamed the system for their own benefit, leaving forgotten veterans and conscientious VA employees adrift in their wake.
As the VA’s first assistant secretary for Congressional and Public Affairs in 1989 I entered a new Cabinet department filled with some of the most caring professionals I have ever met. They remain the rule today but all too often find themselves under attack by a relatively small number of criminals at VA who have gone unpunished for their actions that have led to secret waiting lists for healthcare and improper use of opiates, among other medical transgressions.
So why wasn’t there one Fox debate question about VA? It took an anonymous viewer, smarter and more perceptive than everyone at Fox, to even mention veterans. When the issue did surface, Kelly bizarrely asked the question in terms of God and veterans. For future reference, let me help Fox frame this simple question: “What will you do, as president, to bring accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs?”
The Constitution has well defined roles for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Combined with a First Amendment-protected media, the country has evolved into a dynamic system of Constitutional accountability. The legislative branch focuses on accountability through oversight hearings while the executive branch can investigate and prosecute under the rules and guidance set by the judicial branch, leaving the media to bring a disinfecting sunlight to the entire process.
So what should Fox and the rest of the media look for when asking what will the next president do to fix VA? The VA is broken and department leadership has totally failed in their mission. To be fair to President Obama, he picked two individuals - one as his first secretary and another as undersecretary for Benefits - who by resume power could easily have been chosen by a Republican president.
However, the need for accountability is still in Obama’s hands. Bringing about this needed constitutional accountability is relatively simple. The biggest failures at VA lie within the Office of Inspector General, which Obama has allowed to operate without a top investigator for more than 18 months and just had the acting IG leave. The IG’s office, which is designed to operate separately from the department it investigates, has failed in this vacuum to make any meaningful cases against bad actors in the department.
The inescapable conclusion is that it is now time to bring in the FBI and get serious about investigating malfeasance at VA. With no other effective investigative body in place, only the FBI can get to the bottom of cases in which veterans have died while awaiting medical appointments, conscientious whistleblowers have faced internal persecution, and taxpayers have paid the tab for epic cost overruns associated with the new VA hospital in Denver, as well as other instances of waste, fraud and abuse within the department.
This is something a president can do. If the FBI is dispatched to look into local police departments around the country, as Obama already has done, it is long past time to bring the best law enforcement organization in the world, many of whom are military veterans, to investigate a system that is allowing American veterans die alone in the dark.
Fox News squandered a golden opportunity during the debate to shed light to this issue and the current crop of Republican presidential candidates is well able to implement such an investigation at VA. The governors know executive accountability; the two doctors on the stage are gifted with insights about medical accountability; Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Texas) was previously elected to be the chief law enforcement officer of Texas; and a potential President Donald “You're Fired” Trump would need no help in understanding accountability.
For all the bluster associated with the debate and the fallout from it, a little more attention to the plight of our veterans would be a welcome change.
Timperlake served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs from 1989 to 1992.