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Chalk it up to “administrative error.”

Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System Director Sharon Helman was awarded an $8,500 bonus, even as her VA health care operation underwent investigation for falsifying patient information to hide the long wait times that reportedly have caused the deaths of 40 veterans.

The bonus has now, after much publicity, been rescinded.

Sadly, the veterans who died because of a fraudulently inefficient system cannot be brought back to life.

The bonus money merely adds insult to a much more serious injury — one we now know extends far beyond Phoenix. The investigation has already spread to 26 facilities. It is likely to grow.

Major veterans organizations demand that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resign, or that the president, who once again claimed to have unearthed the crisis from media reports, find a replacement for him.

The first pink slips should belong to a White House staff apparently incapable of briefing the Great O on . . . well, anything. But by all means, the POTUS should certainly keep his cable TV bill paid up.

(Unless, by some strange happenstance, he’s fibbing to the nation about being so clueless.)

As for Shinseki, a logical first step in a accountability crisis might be to replace a failing leader, signaling in deeds, not just words, that those tasked with serving the people will be held accountable. Perhaps, however, Mr. Obama and his strategists might understandably fear where this thorny concept could lead.

Regardless, the Secretary should go and the personnel changes shouldn’t stop there. And those guilty of fraud should face criminal charges, if warranted — not simply be removed from their position.

But none of the above will likely be implemented. Instead of action, we’ll get words.

“As commander in chief, I believe that taking care of our veterans and their families is a scared obligation,” Barack Obama said in his weekly public address. “It’s been one of the causes of my presidency.”

Really? The VA healthcare system has been one of the president’s “causes”? So, this isn’t an issue of neglect?

Socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has gone the furthest trying to protect the VA, perhaps because he and his fellow socialist-minded leftists have so lionized the government-owned-and-operated health care system as proof that socialized medicine can indeed work well.

Well . . .

He is now floating the idea of introducing new legislation to allow for the termination of Veterans Affairs managers and personnel without so much red tape, much like the three-page bill that passed the House. Except Sanders seems intent on waving that same cut-red-tape banner while keeping much of the red tape.

It is the traditional, and fitting, color of socialism.

Others simply gloss over the scandal. Montana Senator Jon Tester says Shinseki should stay and that the VA has done a “remarkable” and “a pretty darn good job.”

A Washington Post editorial played down the scandal, noting that, “Delayed treatment has been an issue for decades.” Half-right. The problem of this federal healthcare bureaucracy shortchanging vets is indeed nothing new. Still, whether the dying and the indecent lack of promised care is old or new, whether political blame might be widely or narrowly distributed . . . all this ought be secondary to preventing the next veterans from early death by actually providing them the care they are legally owed.

Frankly, there’s a very easy way to ensure that veterans will not be denied care by endless waiting lines. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a Navy vet and doctor with years of VA experience, wants the federal government to offer vets a choice between staying in the VA system or receiving a voucher allowing them to purchase care outside the VA system.

It’s a solution aimed at protecting the vets who need care, rather than the VA bureaucracy. Does it stand a fighting chance in Washington?

May 25, 2014

This column first saw light of day at

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