The VA, One Year Later

It's been about a year since it was revealed that a VA hospital in Phoenix was concealing wait times for soldiers' care and that soldiers have died while waiting for care, and while progress has been made, not everyone is satisfied.

The shocking allegations of mismanagement and mistreatment at the Phoenix VA turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg, as the scheduling problems have been reported at VA hospitals around the country. Other systemic VA problems include a lack of quality care at some hospitals, over-prescribing and dispensing of narcotics (including high doses of opiates), construction and expansion of hospitals that is wildly over-budget and overdue, and reported retaliation against whistleblowers.

Former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald replaced Eric Shinseki as the head of the VA in July of 2014, and since then has faced challenges from Congress, soldiers, and the entrenched bureaucracy of the VA itself. In his first national press conference, McDonald gave out his personal cell number, inviting soldiers that want answers or need help to talk directly to him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes he said that he would "get calls from hundreds of veterans every single day. Now, I’m getting roughly 35 percent of the calls."

McDonald has also offered his cell phone number up to whistleblowers, who are still worried about facing retribution for reporting problems within the VA. There have been legal settlements for 25 whistleblowers that were unduly punished for reporting problems in the VA, and at least 120 more investigations that are still active. McDonald says that he expects more compensation for whistleblowers in the future.

One of the largest problems faced by McDonald and other high-level VA administrators is the challenge of getting rid of those in the center of the scandal. Many of those are still employed by the VA, although some are currently on paid leave. At least a few of those who were directly implicated in the scandal were able to retire - and keep their pensions.

However, the constant scrutiny by lawmakers, and the willingness of the VA Secretary to talk directly to the soldiers and lower-level VA employees gives many hope that this increasing pressure will force the few employees holding up progress to either leave or improve.