Editorial: An open letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald

'We need action now'

An open letter to Robert McDonald, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dear Secretary McDonald,

Two years ago, the president appointed you to turn around the Veterans Affairs department. Two years ago, your predecessor resigned after a nationwide scandal over lengthy wait times for health care.

We applauded your appointment, but two years later, we haven’t seen much change where it really counts – in the care provided to the people who answered the call to serve our nation during war.

Here in your hometown, at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, there’s evidence that cost-cutting, not quality care, was the priority. We found veterans in need of care getting lost in a maze of bureaucracy and red tape. We found current and former staff members who told us the “leaders” of the center compromised care rather than improved it. Those whistleblowers said VA leaders focused on making themselves and their financial statements look good rather than helping their patients become whole again.

Here in Cincinnati, we found that some of the taxpayer dollars from the $10 billion Choice program appear to have been spent, not on improving health care, but on outsourcing it.

We found that respected medical programs at our $373 million medical center were gutted to make the balance sheet look better. 

We could go on.

But here’s what we want to know, Mr. Secretary: What are you going to do to fix the problems?

Your actions last week — to remove the Cincinnati chief of staff Dr. Barbara Temeck and her boss Jack Hetrick — are a start. But just a start.

-- Will you open a full, independent investigation into the cutbacks at the Cincinnati VA hospital and what impact they had on care?

-- Will you examine the Choice program to make sure it is working properly and has appropriate safeguards in place to monitor the care provided for veterans?

-- Will you respond to the whistleblowers’ claims that they approached VA officials a year ago about the problems in Cincinnati, but nothing was done?

The VA has failed our veterans. Two years after a nationwide scandal, we found that care for veterans is still embarrassingly inadequate here in Cincinnati.

This is urgent, and we have not seen a sense of urgency on your part. We found veterans with serious medical problems who have been practically forgotten.

You are a veteran yourself. A graduate of West Point. Emblazoned on the West Point coat of arms is its motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.” That’s more than just an empty slogan. It is a guide to action. And we need action now.

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