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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Good luck to Robert McDonald running Veterans Affairs Department

Thursday, July 10, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

No one should envy the task ahead of Robert McDonald.

He is expected to take over as secretary of the shaken Department of Veterans Affairs, a massive government operation that is embroiled in an outrageous scandal and for years has been stymied by systemic delays in providing care.

It is hard to ascertain exactly how much difference McDonald can make and how quickly, but he must summon up all his considerable skills and powers to do so.

McDonald is a West Point graduate and most recently served as chairman of Procter & Gamble, a Fortune 500 company.

But running Veterans Affairs is quite different than being in charge of a big corporation in the private sector. McDonald will need the right tools to do the job, including being able to quickly replace anyone who isn't up to the solemn task of providing adequate medical coverage to veterans — or effectively overseeing those who are providing the care.

To that end, President Barack Obama said he is instituting rules so that anyone caught acting improperly — including falsifying records to improve wait times — will be held accountable.

The policies will make it easier to fire administrators caught making such egregious decisions. While that is all fine and good, prosecutors also have ample authority to go after any criminal activity and they shouldn't be hesitant to bring charges where appropriate.

So far, the worst part of the scandal involves the Phoenix VA hospital, where 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment. Yet it has been known for years the VA was severely backed up, with tens of thousands of veterans waiting months for appointments.

One remedy involves a two-year trial program, under which veterans will be able to seek private health care if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA facility — or have been waiting more than 30 days for treatment.

Congress will have to go further, including making sure the funds are available to more fully automate the VA medical system. It must have a realistic amount of resources to handle the influx of veterans it has been receiving and treating since the end of the Iraq War and draw-down of troops in Afghanistan.

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee will hold confirmation hearings on McDonald's nomination, and he will have to win approval by the full Senate. The Senate should use this time not only to approve McDonald but to go over with him in painstaking detail, what he, the rest of the Obama administration and Congress would need to do to remedy this national outrage.

Copyright Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal. Distributed by The Associated Press.


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