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Veterans Administration: News Cycle vs. Spin Cycle

Written by Gary North on May 23, 2014

How could anyone have known that the Veterans Administration’s health care delivery system is a catastrophe? Easy. By reading Nobel Prize-winning Keynesian economist Paul Krugman in 2011, and then taking the opposite position.

What Mr. Romney and everyone else should know is that the V.H.A. is a huge policy success story, which offers important lessons for future health reform.

Many people still have an image of veterans’ health care based on the terrible state of the system two decades ago. Under the Clinton administration, however, the V.H.A. was overhauled, and achieved a remarkable combination of rising quality and successful cost control. Multiple surveys have found the V.H.A. providing better care than most Americans receive, even as the agency has held cost increases well below those facing Medicare and private insurers. Furthermore, the V.H.A. has led the way in cost-saving innovation, especially the use of electronic medical records.

Anyone can become a competent economist by following this career path. Krugman announces a successful government policy or program. You take the opposite position. Then wait. It won’t take long. The headlines will validate your position soon enough. He does the heavy lifting. You just follow along behind, identifying the next big failure.


The rule governing the news business is this: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

The rule governing bureaucracies is this: “Suppress it or spin it.”

The two rules are in conflict today in the Veterans Administration scandal. The media’s rule is winning this time. It rarely does.

My guess is that the Republicans are going to be successful in Congress when they push to find out what has happened in the VA.

When it comes to shortchanging veterans, no politician is willing to say that expenditures have got to be cut, and veterans have got to stand out in the cold, waiting to get inside. Veterans are politically untouchable. They are well organized. Obviously, there are degrees of importance in budgets. But, at the top of the list of importance, is care for veterans who have been wounded in military service, and who are shortchanged by the veterans’ hospitals. Anything that comes close to this story is the equivalent of cancer for the whole agency.

Something has happened that I cannot ever recall in my lifetime. The House overwhelmingly voted for a bill to make 400 VA bureaucrats legal targets for dismissal. This will overcome civil service rules making them nearly immune.

The Senate will probably pass it. Democrats are hopping mad. This is not seen as a partisan measure. If Obama fails to sign it, this will blow up under his Teleprompter.


The story of the Phoenix branch is getting a lot of publicity. It turns out that there had been repeated warnings about the complete breakdown of services in Phoenix. One physician warned in 2012 about the problem, and she was silenced. She was deliberately transferred to another department. This is standard operating procedure in every federal bureaucracy, but when it goes public, and it has to do with dead veterans, there is no way to hide.

When USA Today gets on your case, you are in big trouble. It has a lot of readers. They read this.

• Early 2012: Dr. Katherine Mitchell, a Veterans Affairs emergency-room physician, warns Sharon Helman, incoming director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, that the Phoenix ER is overwhelmed and dangerous. Mitchell now alleges she was told within days by senior administrators that she had deficient communication skills and was transferred out of the ER.

• Later in 2012: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs orders implementation of electronic wait-time tracking and makes improved patient access a top priority. In December, the Government Accountability Office tells the Veterans Health Administration that its reporting of outpatient medical-appointment wait times is “unreliable.”

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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15 thoughts on “Veterans Administration: News Cycle vs. Spin Cycle

  1. CrustyOldGeezer says:


    A huge government bureaucracy has problems…

    Who would have ever thunk it?

    as to the government employees near immunity from ACCOUNTABILITY, that was granted by democratically controlled house and senate over the years.

    Basically, "judges' were given immunity for actions while on the bench and "Acting within their jurisdiction and assigned duties.

    There never was any "Immunity" for actions beyond the scope of their office(jurisdiction), but that little tidbit was shoved into a big hole under the rug.
    That 'imunity' was gradually granted to cover all governmen employees at all levels down to dog catcher and rogue law enforcement.

  2. Oh here we go with the Keynesians again!

    Hey, guess what, the US government has been dicking over veterans since the formation of the country. It has nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with not wanting to give veterans the treatment they deserve because it might cost the government a few extra bucks. Leave your irrational ideas in your head, Gary.

  3. Mike Borland says:

    The VA Hospital System has not have a decent record for caring about the vets for a long time, perhaps from its inception but definitely since the Viet Nam War. Vets from Viet Nam had all sorts of weird symptoms that they thought were due to exposure to Agent orange. Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome was hardly recognized as an illness back then. So what did the VA do to help the vets? They dragged their feet investigating Agent Orange until most of the Viet Nam vets were dead. Decades later the USA gave aid to Viet Nam for damages caused by Agent orange, as I recall. Now I hear the terrorists in gitmo are treated immediately with 2 physicians per inmate as opposed to our vets having long long wait period with one physician per 35 patients on average. I hope my exact figures are correct, but this was reported by Fox news the other night and I may be off in the figures. The point is our president has treated terrorists better than our vets for 6 years while fully knowing the VA Hospital were a disaster. Remember Obama said when he was a senator that he really wanted a one payer national health service run by the government just like the VA system! God help us all. When ObamaCare finally implodes the democrats will offer us a VA system as a solution! Tell your representatives now to get government out of our lives and out of our medical care.

  4. "the US government has been dicking over veterans since the formation of the country. It has nothing to do with economics"

    Hilarious, everyone, read next what Shane says is the cause. Remember, he just claimed it had nothing to do with economics.

    "and everything to do with not wanting to give veterans the treatment they deserve because it might cost the government a few extra bucks."

    Why is the government worried about the cost of a few extra bucks? Shane tells us, because of economics.

    So Shane tells us it has nothing to do with economics, instead it has to do with economics. Shane can't fake this level of hilarious incompetence, he really is that stupid. And his next sentence is the icing on the cake.

    "Leave your irrational ideas in your head"

    LOL, Shane once again talks to himself, but too late to stop himself from being a laughing stock.

  5. I completely agree on all points ! check out my site you will likely be pleased .

  6. Speaking about our Veteran Administration, I have so far experienced NO issues with the VA, either in New York, North Carolina, or in Florida, but I'll bet anything that ANY VA issue anywhere absolutely IS related 100% to our "woman alone's" elected president(i.e. Deteronomy 17:15's "forbidden foreigner" or NON-ANGLO-SAXON( e.g., No?, Name another occasion in our 6,000 year old history folks)! And I'm speaking about a "man" with an open book about hating ALL whites, including Jews headed by his boss, George Soros, who as a child gave Hitler's Gestapo all the names of the Jews, as well as their location! As a Viet Nam vet, why THANKYOU our "women alone" for making this openly white-hater, including it's 'WOMEN," our president! No! YOU TOO HAVEN'T "YET" REALLY EXPERIENCE ANY PAIN, AS THE 30,000,000 yearly aborted "babies" have! WATCH… p.s., Except for moles, I'm not speaking about the women on these posts! Watch…

  7. Carl D Sedillo says:

    The number of our Military that die on the battlefield as opposed to those that are wounded or injured and survive has declined with every war we have fought. Every member of our Military has great respect for those that work endlessly to improve their talent and skills. Moreover these selfless individuals take great pride in passing on their skills to their counterparts in our Military.
    Those that survive have scare tissue in abundance and vascular problems. While our Veterans Hospitals have gone to great lengths to design prosthetics for visible combat wounds, little has been done to develop similar breakthroughs for similar disasters that lie under the skin that result in great pain and early death for many. Why? Because every Veterans hospital and service center are geared to perform as any other hospital or administrative service center the world over. Much of the rebuild of the bodies of our Military's bodies goes untreated because these skills end at the doors of our Military General Hospitals. I received great treatment from the head of neurosurgery at Brookes Army Medical Centre. He gave up when he determined he could not provide the needed medical treatment because of monetary cuts, and though he had done a great deal of work on some retired Military the Clinton Administration had cut funding and authority to provide services to Military retired.
    If my memory serves, a couple of day ago I learned there are 36 employees for every retired/disabled Military eligible for Veterans Services. I find this astonishing because the headcount of our eligible Veterans includes those that served as administrators and other service and supply areas of our Military. Accordingly, I believe the problem is not money or personnel but the way they are used. I believe a review or the MISSION and the means to accomplish the assigned tasks need’s to be addressed rather than continuation of administrative and unnecessary tasks. In reality we could make this statement about every Department and Separate Agency within this Country’s government—to include a hopeful reduction in the tax base.

  8. When Obama was campaigning in 2008, he bashed Bush for the VA backlog. There were 11,000 cases then, today its over 245,000. So what did Obama do in six years to stop what he condemned Bush for? What has Obama done to help our military and veterans? When sequestration hit, they were one of the first cuts.

    Commander in Chief is a title of respect, something the person who is named CIC must earn by their actions. You cannot demand respect, it must be earned. In truth our CIC Commander in Chief is really the "Crackpot in Charge."

  9. jer1957 says:

    The current 'all veterans are heroes' schtick so common in the media, is a sack of sh@t..

  10. jer1957 says:

    And every veteran knows it.

    How about we spend some money upgrading VA medical infrastructure–and quit pretending that General Shinseki is the boogey man who made the system so pitiful. It has been this way since Viet Nam.

    I would advise Vets to avoid making contributions to pols who invoke this scandal.

    And I have bipartisan solution.

    If the political class love veterans so much–hire–and train a lot more MDs to treat them.

    And raise taxes if needed to so.

  11. jer1957 says:

    I would rather Pres. Obama resign than General Shinseki.

    I personally know General Shinseki to have principles.

    As a 1980s Chicago political operative, I have long had questions about Barry Obama's lack of principles.

    I hope Barry doesn't label me an 'enemy combatant' and send drones to my neighborhood–just because Scalia will OK it..

  12. David in MA says:

    Maybe it is this:
    Figures do not lie, but you can lie with figures.
    And we know the bureaucrats like to spin the figures.

    Remember this, if we get to vote ever again.

  13. What happens if a vet is an illegal alien (on his path to citizenship)? Can he choose to be Medicared or does he have to go VA? (I've had few problems with VA care, but I don't live in Phoenix. If Obamacare is really better, I'd guess he would prefer that.)

  14. jer1957 says:

    Gary–you have got to be kidding. The VA has been a disaster area since Viet Nam. And privatizing the system–only makes matters worse–unless you own Goldman Sachs stock…

  15. jer1957 says:

    Are GOP pols responding to vets concerns–or to Goldman Sachs money?

    The same question should be asked of congressional Democrats, of course.

    Corruption is a bi partisan matter.