U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care is broken under President Barack Obama's watch, despite his promises to fix it. Minor tweaks around the edges aren't going to fix an entrenched systemic failure, and we can no longer tolerate slow and dishonest service to the men and women who sacrificed to serve this country.
So it was disheartening to hear the president's response to the Gazette's VA questions, in an interview he graciously gave Gazette reporter Megan Schrader after the 2016 Air Force Academy graduation. Asked about proposals to privatize VA services so veterans might enjoy more choices in health care, Obama quickly dismissed the concept.
"The notion of dismantling the VA system would be a mistake," Obama told the Gazette, claiming to have improved the agency.
"If you look at, for example, VA health care, there have been challenges getting people into the system. Once they are in, they are extremely satisfied and the quality of care is very high."
That's not the overarching message we hear from veterans, including those who have long been in the system. Wait times are long enough that some die while waiting for appointments. An internal report found that wait times in Colorado Springs, Colorado were covered up by doctoring records.
VA officials have responded to the local controversy by seeking more resources, saying they built the clinic too small. Up in Aurora, Colorado, a VA hospital is coming in behind schedule at more than double the anticipated cost.
Throughout the country, veterans are told to wait for help with conditions that cause pain and threaten their lives.
When Obama's VA secretary was asked about wait times last month, he compared them to ride lines at Disneyland.
In speaking with the Gazette, Obama compared the VA to "a big ocean liner." At least he did not call it the Disney Cruise Line. Fixing it, Obama said, will involve "an all-hands-on-deck process."
Those are probably empty-sounding words to veterans who have waited decades, through multiple presidents, for improvements that never come. They need to hear about an overhaul plan — if not privatization, something else. But "all-hands-on-deck" won't save a sinking ship.
Obama's laissez-faire attitude about this federal embarrassment makes him look out of touch. His loyalty to the doctrine of big-government solutions overwhelms any dedication to achieving outcomes Americans desperately need.
Veterans waiting for health care don't need empty political rhetoric. They need a new system that provides them with options.
They need the president to consider new ideas.
REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE