Offenders should face criminal punishments

No wonder some bureaucrats think they can get away with shabby, dishonest treatment of veterans. The penalty for doing so, even when it puts the vets’ lives in danger, is limited to a stern, no-nonsense warning that it had better not happen again.

It has happened again – over and over again to the point some veterans may have died while waiting for Department of Veterans Affairs medical care.

VA officials have known about the scandal for years. So have members of Congress, who were told a year ago that some VA officials were lying about how long veterans had to wait for care. So did President Barack Obama’s aides, who heard the same thing in 2008, before he took office.

An April 2010 memo from William Schoenhard, then the VA undersecretary for health operations and management, outlined several “gaming strategies” used by officials to make it appear veterans were getting timely appointments for care when they were not.

One tactic was to log into computer records that veterans had received appointments when they desired, then note the actual date on paper records. Another was to make an appointment within 30 days, not tell the patient, then cancel and reschedule it.

This isn’t “gaming.” It is gambling with veterans’ lives.

After hearing how VA officials lied about appointments, Schoenhard issued a memo ordering them to stop doing it. That was all. No one was punished in any way.

Members of Congress should insist on reforms at the VA. But they also should demand severe, criminal punishment of the offenders. Otherwise, there will be no real reform.