There was no reason to think Kansas facilities would be spared in the national scandal involving delayed treatment for American military veterans.
Still, it came like a punch in the stomach to many Kansans to learn that 385 veterans had been placed on an unauthorized waiting list at the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wichita.
No one has fought harder for veterans and especially veterans with disabilities or medical needs than the former Kansas senator. Dole knows first-hand the challenges of overcoming injuries suffered in battle. He understands the ongoing needs of aging and wounded veterans. It’s unthinkable that the administrative abuses that resulted in secret waiting lists and veterans waiting more than 90 days for medical appointments could exist at a VA medical center that bears Dole’s name.
An official at the Wichita facility confirmed this week that some veterans had been placed on an unauthorized list that helped the hospital conceal how long they had to wait for care. She said an unknown number of people on the list waited more than 90 days for an appointment.
It’s particularly disturbing that, even after waiting list abuses had come to light in Phoenix, officials at the Wichita hospital continued to tell members of the Kansas congressional delegation that everything there was fine. U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts passed that positive report along to a Republican group last Friday and a couple of hours later received a fax from the Wichita VA hospital confirming the existence of a secret waiting list.
Administrative bureaucracy appears largely to blame for the embarrassing VA situation. The agency reportedly tied employment performance bonuses to unrealistic goals for shortening veterans’ wait for appointments. Some of the unauthorized waiting lists may also have been created by employees frustrated by obsolete computer equipment used to track appointments.
The only good news about the situation is that is has shined the light on a problem that is in serious need of a remedy. VA officials now have confirmed the existence of “secret waiting lists” at eight facilities in Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana and launched a system-wide investigation that hopefully won’t find additional abuses elsewhere.
After the first waiting list came to light, Sen. Dole called for a shakeup at the Department of Veterans Affairs but defended its leader, Eric Shinseki, who has since resigned. The Kansas senator no doubt is continuing to monitor this situation closely. All Americans should do the same. We owe it to Dole and all the other U.S. military veterans who have served on our behalf.