U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
|Department of Veterans Affairs|
|Deputy Secretary:||Sloan D. Gibson|
|Annual budget:||138.5 billion (2013)|
|Total employed:||295,742 (2011)|
- 1 History
- 2 Structure
- 3 Issues
- 4 Analysis
- 5 Recent news
- 6 External links
- 7 References
The Department of Veterans Affairs employed 295,742 people in 2011. Among the agencies overseen by the Department are the National Cemetery Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Veterans Health Administration.
The 1776 Continental Congress recruited soldiers by promising pensions to those who were disabled during their term of duty. In 1881, the first federal medical facility for veterans was established. Prior to the formation of the facility, states and communities were responsible for the care of veterans. More government-run facilities and homes were established after the Civil War. Benefits increased when the U.S. entered World War I, including, "disability compensation, insurance for service persons and veterans, and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled." With increased benefits and agencies disbursing the benefits, the Veterans Administration was established in 1930, bringing all the agencies together. Frank T. Hines was the first Administrator of Veterans Affairs, leading the organization until 1945. The GI Bill was passed in 1944 as the first educational assistance to military personnel.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was officially established as a cabinet-level department on March 15, 1989, by President George H.W. Bush.
The official Department mission statement is as follows:
|“||To fulfill President Lincoln's promise "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans.||”|
The position of Secretary of Veterans Affairs is currently vacant.
|Secretaries of Veterans Affairs Full History|
|Secretary of Veterans Affairs||Years in office||Nominated by||Confirmation vote|
|Ed Derwinski||1989-1992||George H.W. Bush|
|Jesse Brown||1993-1997||Bill Clinton|
|Togo D. West, Jr.||1998-2000||Bill Clinton|
|Anthony Principi||2001-2005||George W. Bush|
|Jim Nicholson||2005-2007||George W. Bush|
|James B. Peake||2007-2009||George W. Bush|
|Eric Shinseki||2009-2014||Barack Obama|
|Robert McDonald||2014-Present||Barack Obama||N/A|
Note: Votes marked "N/A" represent voice votes or unrecorded votes. Missing votes will be filled as they are researched.
VA hospital waiting lines
According to reports by CNN in 2014, veterans hospitals across the country were delaying care of veteran patients, at times to the point that some veterans conditions deteriorated vastly or died due to the wait times. To cover for the long delays, some hospitals resorted to "secret lists" for patients awaiting care in order to keep their official wait times down. The following reports were released by CNN:
- On November 20, 2013, it was reported that at Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina, patients were not receiving routine gastrointestinal procedures until up to a year after requesting an appointment, at times even longer. A review of 280 gastrointestinal patients showed that 52 of the patients showed complications due to the delay in care and early detection. The VA confirmed six deaths resulted from delayed care at the hospital, but CNN's sources suggested the number could have been as high as 20.
- The Dorn hospital also received an addition $1 million in federal funding in 2011 in order to treat the patients on long waiting lists. However, according to documents, only one-third of the the federal funds went to the intended destination. 
- The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, experienced the deaths of three patients due to long delays in treatment and had a waiting list of over 4,500 patients.
- Between 2010 and 2011, VA internal documents indicated 82 veterans died or were dying in part due to delayed care from VA hospitals in the United States.
- In the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system in Phoenix, Arizona, at least 40 veterans died waiting for care. The VA system in Phoenix used a secret waiting list. The secret list was used as a placeholder for patients whose care would be delayed for months. VA guidelines require care be given in a timely manner, usually within three weeks, but the Phoenix system used the secret list to hold names between the times appointments were made until the appointment could be made within the required VA timeline.
Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee began investigating the VA hospital delays in November 2013. In April 2014, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) ordered all records be preserved and intended to make the issue a congressional investigation.
The VA hospitals in Nashville and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had 4,752 new patients go through their facilities during a six month period ending March 31, 2014. Of those, only 29.6% saw treatment in the 14-day window goal set by the Veterans Affairs Department, representing the lowest score nationwide excluding those with the secret lists. The facilities with the highest percentage of new patients seen were located in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where 93.7 percent were seen in the 14-day window.
A VA internal report showed that staff at nearly two-thirds of the nation's 216 facilities were instructed to falsify wait time information on reports. In an editorial in Time, Rep. Jeff Miller, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, stated, "Any VA administrator who ordered subordinates to purposely manipulate appointment data should be fired immediately."
The whistleblower in the Phoenix system, Dr. Sam Foote, explained that as more veterans enrolled in the system, the stress on medical professionals grew. As the doctors and other professionals felt more stress, many began to leave the VA, leaving fewer people to care for the growing number of veterans. He noted that as the stress mounted on a fewer number of practitioners, medical mistakes became more common.
Foote saw bonuses and promotions being awarded to the administrators for their reports on improved wait times, but he also heard about appointment schedulers being told that the patients they were calling for had already died. Foote lodged complaints with the VA's office of the inspector general, but he then started to get increased hours and more patients. He then contacted the media with his story and the reports eventually found their way to Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) and the federal investigation began.
Hospital official bonuses
Despite the delays in care in facilities across the United States, many hospital and regional directors received bonuses worth between $7,500 to $80,000.
Calls for Shinseki resignation
On May 5, 2014, the American Legion, the largest veteran organization in the U.S., and Concerned Veterans for America called for the resignation of Secretary Shinseki. American Legion's director stated, "At least let us know that the problems exist and they have a plan to take care of it," when asked about the lack of communication from the VA. Shinseki responded to the calls for resignation, saying, "I serve at the pleasure of the president. I signed on to make some changes, I have work to do."
The director and two other high-ranking officials in the Phoenix VA system were placed on administrative leave on May 1, 2014, with their replacements being appointed on May 10. Former director Sharon Helman was replaced by interim director Steve Young who was charged with oversight of the 85,000 veterans and $500 million budget while the investigation was underway.
Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs committee on May 15, 2014, stating, "I’m committed to take all actions necessary to identify exactly what the issues are, to fix them and to strengthen veterans’ trust in VA health care. If any allegations are substantiated by the inspector general, we will act." Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) questioned the leadership ability of the secretary and others in the department, claiming, "VA senior leadership, including the secretary, should have been aware that VA was facing a national scheduling crisis. VA leadership either failed to connect the dots or failed to address this ongoing crisis, which has resulted in patient harm and patient deaths."
Prior to the hearing, President Obama announced that Deputy White House Chief of Staff Rob Nabors would lead a review of the VA's scheduling process and patient safety rules. Two organizations, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), also launched a whistle-blower website for those who were affected by the controversial secret waiting lists. The head of POGO stated, "Whistle-blowers shouldn’t have to go it alone. We can help whistle-blowers hold the VA accountable, and keep the focus on solutions rather than attempts to hunt down those who voiced concerns."
The VA's undersecretary for health, Dr. Robert Petzel, resigned on May 16, 2014, though he had already announced his retirement in September 2013 and his replacement was named on May 1, 2014.
President Obama accepted Shinseki's resignation on May 30, 2014. Sloan Gibson, who was confirmed in February 2014 to be Shinseki's deputy secretary, was named acting secretary of veterans affairs until a replacement could be nominated and confirmed.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a criminal investigation from its Phoenix office on June 11, 2014. The FBI and the VA's inspector general will conduct the investigation with the Justice Department possibly getting involved depending on the outcome. A Justice Department spokesperson explained, "At the department's direction, the FBI has instructed agents in its Phoenix office to conduct an investigation into the allegations related to the VA. Federal prosecutors will be working with these investigators to determine whether there is a basis for criminal charges."
Prior claims against the VA
A report by the Dayton Daily News examined VA records going back to 2001 and revealed that the department paid $34.7 million in 167 claims containing "delay in treatment" in their descriptions. The report stated that it was unclear how many of them met the department's "delayed care" description, but stated that the number of veterans who died due to problems at VA facilities could be as high as 1,100 from 2001 through the first half of 2013.
The requested budget for the 2013 fiscal year was $138.5 billion, 9.2 percent higher than the 2012 budget of $126.8 billion.
The Best Places to work in the Federal Government is a website that tracks workforce trends in federal agencies. According to their analysis, from 2008-2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs has added an average of 6,147 jobs per year.
The budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs was not impacted by the sequestration.
This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term U.S. + Department + Veterans + Affairs
- All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.
- Official Department of Veterans Affairs website
- Official Department of Veterans Affairs blog
- Department of Veterans Affairs on Facebook
- Department of Veterans Affairs on Twitter
- Department of Veterans Affairs Youtube channel
- Department of Veterans Affairs on Flickr
- Department of Veterans Affairs, "About VA," accessed January 10, 2013
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "History - VA History," accessed January 10, 2014
- Politico, "President Barack Obama accepts Eric Shinseki’s resignation," May 30, 2014
- Department of Veterans Affairs, "Annual Budget Submission (FY 2013 Budget Submission)," accessed January 10, 2014
- Department of Veterans Affairs, "Organization," accessed January 10, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- CNN, "A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital's secret list," April 24, 2014
- CNN, "Hospital delays are killing America's war veterans," November 20, 2013
- CNN, "Veterans dying because of health care delays," January 30, 2014
- Tennessean, "Wait times at Midstate VA hospitals longest in nation," June 3, 2014
- Time, "Why Veterans Affairs Can’t Root Out Its Corruption," June 2, 2014
- AZ Central, "The doctor who launched the VA scandal," June 3, 2014
- House Committee on Veterans Affairs, "VA Accountability," accessed April 28, 2014
- CNN, "Two key veterans groups call for VA chief Eric Shinseki to resign," May 5, 2014
- Wall Street Journal, "Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Says He Won't Resign," May 6, 2014
- Huffington Post, "Changes Are Coming To The Embattled Veterans Affairs Health Care System," May 10, 2014
- Politico, "Eric Shinseki ‘mad as hell’ over VA scandal," May 15, 2014
- Fox News, "Whistle-blower website launched to expose VA wrongdoing," May 19, 2014
- NPR, "Top VA Health Official Resigns Amid Scandal Over Treatment Delays," May 16, 2014
- New York Times, "V.A.’s Acting Chief: West Point Graduate and Ex-Leader of U.S.O.," May 30, 2014
- CNN, "FBI launches criminal probe of VA," June 11, 2014
- Dayton Daily News, "‘Delay in treatment’ a factor in more than 100 deaths at VA centers," May 17, 2014
- Department of Veterans Affairs, "VA 2014 Budget Fast Facts," accessed January 10, 2014
- The Best Places to work in the Federal Government, "Agency Report: Department of Veterans Affairs," accessed January 10, 2014
- Washington Post, "VA dodges budget cuts, but veterans will still feel effects of the sequester," March 8, 2013