I rarely link to audio, but this morning's NPR segment on the VA is worth a listen just to hear VA Secretary Jim Nicholson do a champion demonstration of what Wallace (of Wallace & Gromit) calls prevaricating around the bush.
The Senate is voting today on a $1.5 billion extra appropriation for VA health care. The VA based its inadequate request in the current budget on the amount it needed in 2002, i.e. planning for medical care as if there were not a war in Iraq. Similarly, when the administration asked for a supplemental appropriation for Iraq — having left it out of the budget to be able to claim the deficit was smaller than everyone knew it actually was — Democratic Senator Patty Murry proposed adding more money for the VA. The administration said it wasn't needed.
In the NPR clip, a Republican senator asks Secretary Nicholson why the VA couldn't see this medical funding budget gap coming. Nicholson, in a truly idiotic move, said his department didn't get caught by surprise — they've known about it since April — but just didn't tell Congress!!!
Yesterday Sen. Murray asked Nicholson if, having said there was no problem when she proposed the extra money for the supplemental appropriation [and, I might add, having repeated that lie two months ago], Nicholson is willing to say that we have a problem now. All he'd say is “we have a situation”. It's worth hearing.
I suspect this is worse than incompetence: This shortfall may not be unexpected at all. I wouldn't be surprised if it were intentional. By not appropriating money in the regular or even the supplemental Iraq appropriation, the administration avoided having to admit they expected any casualties in Iraq — much less estimating how many there might be. (It also kept down the bottom line number in the supplemental.) And, in the classic Washington Monument Ploy, they could rest easy in knowledge that Congress would surely pony up the money when asked.
I hope that every veterans group in the nation gets to hear about this.
UPDATE: The Post says the VA is actually short $2.6 billion for medical care
Earlier VA scandal item: Back to Normal at the VA