The V.A. Shuffle

Grieving in Columbia

“If the price tag is any indication, Sanders compromised quite a bit – the Senate bill, which passed in June on a 93-to-3 vote, had a price tag of $35 billion over 10 years. This new agreement with the GOP-led House has reduced the aid package to $15 billion, less than half the original total.”

Steve Benen

Perhaps some of us recall a recent Beltway dustup when it was discovered that the Veterans Administration was apparently failing to do its job, even going so far as to keep secret lists describing reality while devising all sorts of lies on paper to suggest everything was … well … that is the question, isn’t it?

After all, perhaps some of us also remember that the idea of the VA as a bureaucratic nightmare akin to that planet-eating monster thing in Rise of the Silver Surfer, a film that, like the 113th Congress, probably should have been shelved, or else simply never greenlit.

We all know the cycle; this is just a particularly ugly manifestation. Indeed, it seems a perpetual part of our American experience; take a noble endeavor that cannot be recorded in body counts, territorial annexations, or ledgers, and think about how a society engages those challenges.

Twenty years ago, it was schools. The “No Child Left Behind” debacle was the height of a movement idea. The schools, facing budgetary issues challenging their ability to perform their jobs, were told that they needed to show they could do the job without the extra money, and then the legislatures would consider writing the checks.

Step one? Describe the problem.

Step two? Refuse to do anything about the problem.

Step three? Tell people that if they show they can solve the problem without the legislature’s help, the legislature will consider the possibility of just maybe deciding to do something to help.

To wit, perhaps some might also conjure up a strange memory, seemingly recent, in which a sitting U.S. Senator castigated veterans support groups for failing to agree with him. As Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times reported in May—

The open letter, from Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee — and the groups’ responses — pushed the conflict into the open.

Mr. Burr, angry that only the American Legion has called for the resignation of the veterans affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, accused the groups of being “more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle” than in helping members.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America hit back hard.

“For years, the V.F.W. has come to Congress with hat in hand, and for years we’ve heard the same old story,” the heads of the veterans group wrote to Mr. Burr. “You can be assured, Senator, that you’ve done a superb job in showing us the error in our ways. You can also be assured that in the future, we will spend a substantial percentage of our time seeking to inform our members and our constituents of the repeated failure to act by our elected officials.”

To that sentiment, the national president and the executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America added, “Perhaps you should have shared with all veterans in your ‘open’ letter that you cared so much about their health care that you were not actually present during the testimony that the V.S.O. representatives provided, and you did not ask a single question.”

(Boldface accent added.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—and, in truth, at that point the VSOs would seem to have the benefit of history. The Republican political device is simple enough; stir outrage by pretending that everything old is actually new. That is to say, perhaps certain things are outrageous, but come on, such indignities are Beltway traditions and it only piles on the insult to ask us to believe we are witnessing some newly-emerging phenomenon.

It does not matter who the Senate allows the president to put in the top office at the VA if Congress intends to keep nickel-and-diming it to death. Some corners simply should not be cut. Senate Republicans have already shamed themselves and the nation by filibustering the original bill. And if Sen. Sessions of Alabama is to be taken at his word

“We’re not going to be intimidated on this. We’re going to do the right things for the veterans of America.”

—at the very least we now know what conservatives mean when they talk about doing “the right things for the veterans of America”. The filibuster eventually broke, and the Senate passed the bill by such a margin as to make one wonder what the whole point of blocking the floor vote. But the House?

If the price tag is any indication, Sanders compromised quite a bit – the Senate bill, which passed in June on a 93-to-3 vote, had a price tag of $35 billion over 10 years. This new agreement with the GOP-led House has reduced the aid package to $15 billion, less than half the original total.

Well, apparently the right thing is to demand such cuts to the bill that the compromise point is a fifty-seven percent reduction.

And this is exactly how it happens. Getting it right for fifty-seven percent cheaper means changing the definition of what it means to get it right.

We can expect to hear more shock and outrage, noise and fury, bluster and braggodocio, from Republicans as November draws nigh, and then the 2016 election begins to take shape. Perhaps the object lesson, then, is that the next time around, whichever argument requires us to ignore this particular tradition of recent generations lesser known as the VA shuffle ought to be disqualified. To wit, Messrs. Burr (R-NC) and Sessions (R-AL) need to sit down and shut up. The functional problem, however, is that the entire House Republican Caucus would need to join them, starting with the Distinguished Gentleman from Florida’s First Congressional District, Mr. Miller, who negotiated the House demands.


Benen, Steve. “Congress reaches preliminary deal on veterans’ aid”. msnbc. 28 July 2014.

Weisman, Jonathan. “Veterans Fire Back at Letter by Senator”. The New York Tiems. 26 May 2014.

Fram, Alan. “Senate Blocks Dems’ Bill Boosting Vets’ Benefits”. Associated Press. 27 February, 2014.

Lesniewski, Niels and Connor O’Brien. “VA Health Care Deal Reached; Miller, Sanders Plan to Announce Monday”. #WGDB. 27 July 2014.

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