There are finally some consequences, apart from the lost bonus and now months-long paid vacation of the head of the Phoenix VAMC, whose bonus-grubbing killed somewhere between 40 and 100 veterans. Two VA satraps voluntarily stepped down, and VA trickled the announcement out during the traditional Friday Night graveyard of scandalous revelations, although the media seem to have had it in advance, whereupon most of them sat on it. The online newspaper Christian Science Monitor:
Robert Jesse, the current acting undersecretary for health, will complete his four-year term as principal deputy undersecretary for health on July 2, the Veterans’ Affairs department said in a statement. In addition, Will Gunn, the department’s general counsel, has resigned.
The undersecretary for health leads the programs of the Veterans’ Health Administration, which runs the sprawling VA health system. Outrage erupted when it became known that officials hid that veterans were being made to wait for lengthy periods to get primary medical care and that in some cases those delays led to deaths.
Both of them were deeply implicated in the ongoing coverups of the cash-for-neglect scandal; Jesse, who replaced Robert Petzel who had also earned deserved vilification in these pages, had tried to bury the news of a legionella outbreak in Pittsburgh, caused by corner-cutting and neglect, that killed six vets and sickened 19 more; and then he testified falsely to Congress about it in 2012, after the VA news blackout on the year-old epidemic leaked out. Petzel was also involved in that cover-up, and retired under Congressional and media fire in May 2014, giving Jesse the bump up. (What are they going to do, promote an honest, patient-oriented executive? Where would they find him?)
Jesse blamed an underling for his false testimony, but the underling, if any, also got the benefit of the VA’s culture of nonaccountability. Pittsburgh Tribune:
The House VA committee’s chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., pressed Jesse on whether he disciplined the person who prepared his testimony before Congress since the information was incorrect.
Jesse said he did not know whether that person knew about the report, either.
His defense was pettifogging:
“The testimony is true. It’s not complete, but it is true,” Jesse said.
Like, “Blackbeard was a noted mariner,” or, “Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow shared an affinity for the banking industry.” The committee chairman didn’t buy it:
“Today’s VA is a case study in how to stonewall the press, the public and Congress,” Miller stated. “Dr. Jesse’s answers today — or lack thereof — regarding misleading testimony he provided to our committee in February of 2013 did nothing to dispel this notion.”
Actually, it’s more a case study in extending Steve Jobs’s famous aphorism that, “A players hire A players. B players hire C players.” The VA staff is whom the C players hire. CBS notes that Jesse was an acting replacement for Petzel, and that:
President Obama sought to replace Petzel with Jeffrey Murawsky, the health care chief for the VA’s Chicago-based regional office. Murawsky withdrew his nomination after allegations that one Chicago hospital he oversees used a secret list to conceal long patient waiting times.
It’s patient-killing barbers and bums all the way down. Well, what do you expect? The guy was from Chicongo.
We haven’t forgotten the other bum that snuck off the premises by sundown yesterday, Will Gunn. Gunn, the General Counsel, was an Obama Administration political appointee, after serving as a high-profile defense attorney for Guantanamo detainees. While nominally a veteran, as an Air Force officer Gunn had only served as a lawyer since he was a junior lieutenant. He went to the Supreme Court with the proposition that Al-Qaeda terrorists on the battlefield ought to be treated at least as well as America’s coddled criminal class — and won.
Gunn was deeply involved in all the past and pending cover-ups, and one of the key players in retaliation against whistleblowers. Gunn was one of six VA officials subpoenaed in May for involvement in the cover-up of a spreadsheet-based secret wait list, according to the New York Times. The officials destroyed the wait list and all copies and backups to prevent its revelation to Congress and the media. His only supporter remaining in Congress had been Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders, who argues that the VA still provides the greatest good for the greatest number, and the neglected and dead are of no consequence.
The two have been replaced by two other career VA drones, back to the CSM article:
Carolyn Clancy, the agency’s assistant deputy undersecretary for health, will take [Jesse’s] place and be named the interim undersecretary for health, the VA said.
Principal Deputy General Counsel Tammy Kennedy will serve as acting general counsel, the agency said.
Both have been involved in the ongoing cover-ups, and Kennedy has been involved in punishing whistleblowers. But if you’re the VA, that’s a feature, not a bug. Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson:
Dr. Clancy will be charged with the department’s top priority – getting veterans off of wait lists and in to see their doctors. She will also lead our efforts on immediate, national reforms to accelerate access to care and restore trust among our veterans.
Of course, Gibson is the guy who made it clear that his constituency was the VA’s employees, and that none of them need fear dismissal or even loss of a bonus on his watch. (Note that both of these were voluntary resignations, probably to lawyer up in anticipation of a criminal probe after Eric Holder retracts top cover or is replaced in 2017).
We have an opinion on this, but let’s just quote Pete Hegseth of Concerned Veterans of America, a Republican-leaning veterans group:
Forced resignations are step one; criminal prosecutions should be step two. While we are glad to hear that Acting Secretary Gibson is finally relieving these two top officials of their duties, it will not stop there.
The Justice Department must now follow through with criminal prosecutions against any official whose negligence or ineptitude led to the preventable deaths of veterans awaiting basic care at VA clinics nationwide. True accountability is not just a buzzword.
Hell, at VA it’s not even a buzzword.