The resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki from the Veterans Affairs Department was probably unavoidable, under the principle that a leader should accept full responsibility for a great scandal. But the department’s problem was not Mr. Shinseki. It has been broken for years. No one should expect his removal to be anything but the beginning of a much-needed process of change.
Time now to tune out the noise from the lawmakers who lately have been baying for Mr. Shinseki’s head. No doubt they will keep heaping abuse on President Obama, on the campaign trail, and at the hearings for whoever is nominated as Mr. Shinseki’s replacement. Empty posturing in support of troops and veterans is a staple of political life, and is far easier than actually helping veterans.
This should not distract anyone from the long list of things that need doing at Veterans Affairs.
It starts with completing the investigation into what happened at the hospital in Phoenix and, evidently, many other parts of the department’s sprawling health care system. Veterans Affairs’ acting inspector general, Richard Griffin, is on the job: a preliminary report he released on Wednesday showed evidence of wide-scale mismanagement, not just in shutting out 1,700 veterans in Phoenix through fraudulent appointment records but in the “systemic” use of “inappropriate scheduling practices” at hospitals across the country. Policies that rewarded the appearance of efficiency, and thus encouraged fraud, need to be repaired, wrongdoers need to be prosecuted, and veterans who have languished must be fast-tracked into care.
More permanent reforms mean tighter management, control of bureaucratic bloat and better use of the system’s vast but ultimately finite resources. As The Times reported on Thursday, the system — spread across more than 150 medical centers and hospitals and 900 clinics — badly needs doctors. It has more than 5,000 primary-care physicians, and is trying to fill 400 vacancies. Part of the problem also stems from a web of care stretched unevenly across the continent. The system needs to redirect resources to far-flung areas where many patients live.