In spite of the apparent intimidation, Ruell persisted. She and dozens like her deserve credit for the widening investigations of Veterans Affairs' callous treatment of people who agreed to lay down their lives for their country. The department's inspector general and Congress are looking into long wait times at VA hospitals, which may have led to dozens of deaths. The probe is expanding to other bureaucratic backlogs, including pensions managed by the Germantown office. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) has called for a criminal investigation.
Last month, President Obama appointed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to head the department following the forced resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Stating the obvious, Obama told McDonald, "This is not going to be an easy assignment."
Indeed, even after months of revelations about long waits and forged documents, as well as promises of more transparency and protections for whistle-blowers, the department hasn't really changed its tune. The Inquirer's Tricia L. Nadolny reported that earlier this month, VA staffers snooped on congressional investigators visiting the Philadelphia office, which oversees benefits for 825,000 veterans in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware and pensions in more than a dozen states.
The investigations so far have made it clear that the VA system needs an overhaul. As disturbing as the scandal is, though, it should not be misused as an excuse to privatize veterans' health services, which would make oversight even more difficult and expose the system to profiteering. The department needs honest, efficient management and enough staff to fulfill its mission. That is the least we can do for our veterans.