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DANA MILBANK: Obama is President Passive on VA scandal

Washington Post Writers Group Published: May 27, 2014 4:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- It doesn't inspire great confidence that President Obama, on the day he finally decided to comment about excessive wait times for veterans' medical appointments, showed up late to read his statement.

The White House briefing room is about 100 feet from the Oval Office, but Obama arrived 13 minutes after the scheduled time for his remarks, the first since the day the scandal broke late last month with a report that 40 veterans had died in Phoenix while waiting to see doctors.

Over the weekend, the president's chief of staff assured the public that Obama was "madder than hell" about what happened at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but in person Obama didn't seem very angry. Like VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Obama wasn't entirely convinced something bad had happened.

"If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable," he said. "If there is misconduct, it will be punished."

Obama spoke of only "the possibility that somebody was trying to manipulate the data" on appointment wait lists, and he suggested that "whatever is wrong" may be "just an episodic problem."

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But there are no "ifs" about it: Numerous inquiries and leaked memos over several years point to "gaming strategies" employed at VA facilities to make wait times for medical appointments seem shorter -- and these clearly aren't limited to those reported in Phoenix; Albuquerque; Fort Collins, Colo.; and elsewhere. Lawmakers in both parties have spoken of a systemic problem at the agency, and the American Legion, citing "poor oversight," has called for Shinseki's resignation --the first time it has made such a gesture in more than 70 years.

Obama said that he doesn't want the matter to become "another political football," and that's understandable. But his response to the scandal has created an inherent contradiction: He can't be "madder than hell" about something if he won't acknowledge that the thing actually occurred. This would be a good time for Obama to knock heads and to get in front of the story. But, frustratingly, he's playing President Passive, insisting on waiting for the VA's inspector general to complete yet another investigation, this one looking into the Phoenix deaths.

Referring frequently to his notes, he offered the platitude that veterans "are the best that our country has to offer," and he said that long waits for veterans' medical care have "been a problem for decades, and it's been compounded by more than a decade of war." He assured his television audience that "we have been working really hard" to lessen the delays.

He said the disability-claim backlog has been cut in half in the past year, and that "there are millions of veterans who are getting really good service from the VA." This may all be true, but it's a bit like pointing out after a plane crash that many other flights landed safely.

The Associated Press' Jim Kuhnhenn asked whether Shinseki is responsible for what happened. Obama replied that "I am going to make sure there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report."

But Obama doesn't need an IG to tell him "if" there has been mismanagement and misconduct. He needs only his eyes and ears.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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TaggR May 27, 2014 3:18 PM

"Judge judy said"  ROFL

redleg6 May 27, 2014 12:44 PM

From above: Obama said that he doesn't want the matter to become "another political football

Excerpts from: speech to VFW, Kansas City, Mo...by candidate Senator Obama:

"A Sacred Trust"...August 21, 2007

...To America's veterans, our country must speak with one voice: we honor your service, and we enter into a sacred trust with you from the moment you put on that uniform. That trust is simple: America will be there for you just as you have been there for America....

....As a candidate for the presidency, I know that I am running to become Commander-in-Chief to safeguard this nation's security, and to keep that sacred trust. There is no responsibility that I take more seriously. To keep our sacred trust, "I will" improve mental health screening and treatment at all levels: from enlistment, to deployment, to reentry into civilian life. No service-member should be kicked out of the military because they are struggling with untreated PTSD. No veteran should have to fill out a 23-page claim to get care, or wait months - even years - to get an appointment at the VA.....

****  I have been dealing with the VA since returning from Vietnam (1970) My observation is both parties, from Nixon to Obama have used the VA as a political football.

Most recently, GW Bush punted the football to Obama, and he did nothing either. But let us not just blame the Presidents, lets blame the Congress & Senate, both parties share the blame. Neither did anything to change the system. Sure they allocated more money, but money dosen't fix a corrupt system.

President Obama said he was informed by the media about the VA scandal.

Another LIE by our Commander-in-Chief...He new about the VA problems in 2007.

President Obama used the VA political football in 2007. He promised to fix the problems, it was a SACRED TRUST... There is No Responsibility That I Take More SERIOUSLY.  


PS. At the Cleveland Wade Park  VA, the union, SEIU runs the facility...Google: Obama, Acorn,  and the SEIU connection.





stanback May 27, 2014 12:19 PM

Judge Judy?....seriously?....NO Really? That is nothing compared to what Jerry Springer and Maury Povich said!

little_r_republican May 27, 2014 9:27 AM

Judge judy said it best: Obama "is either acvting dumb, or he is...".

Same can be said for obama's relentless media supporters...

amt_ May 27, 2014 6:20 AM

"Over the weekend, the president's chief of staff assured the public that Obama was "madder than ****" about what happened..."

Who in the world is Obama mad at?

Obama's in charge, so he should be mad at himself. Instead, he pretends to be some innocent bystander who just earned about it on the news.

Thus we enter into yet another Obama scandal, which always proceeds as follows:

1) Obama professes outrage when "discovering" a scandal in the news that he himself is responsible for.

2) Obama resolves to "get to the bottom" of the scandal and "punish" those responsible.
3) Weeks and months pass with nothing done.

4) A low level bureaucrat weeks from retirement is blamed, then collects their full pension.

5) Obama blames Bush and the Republicans, and says there is no scandal.

President Obama, the most powerful man in the free world, always seems to be the last to know about what’s going on in his own administration.

Glaring incompetence.