Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was grilled in Congress Thursday, for the first time since explosive allegations surfaced that some VA health clinics cooked the books to hide long, possibly deadly, waits for medical care. He took considerable heat but, unfortunately, added little light.
Shinseki said the allegations made him "mad as hell," and "also saddens me," and vowed to fix what ails the system. That may be heartfelt, but it's just Damage Control 101 for any executive when things go bad on his watch. And this is bad.
It's a scandal and a tragedy, and possibly criminal.
According to Sam Foote, a whistle-blowing former VA doctor, the department's Phoenix health clinic developed secret off-the-books waiting lists to hide that it took new patients six to nine months to see a doctor for the first time, much longer than the department's goal of 14 days. Since Foote went public last month, similar alleged schemes at other VA clinics have come to light. That's absolutely scandalous.
Some veterans apparently died while on the supposed secret waiting lists. Deaths that may have been preventable makes this an unconscionable tragedy.
But were crimes committed?
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont who heads the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said a criminal investigation may be in order. So did Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
In Washington, trumped-up scandals sprout like Dandelions in spring. The party out of power sees to that, especially in an election year. But when allies of the administration like Sanders and Blumenthal suggest its time to call in the prosecutors, that's well beyond business as usual.