A public policy expert at Harvard University recently spoke for many Americans in harshly criticizing Veterans Affairs' inability to provide for the men and women who served this nation.

"There was absolutely a lack of planning, a lack of capacity for planning," said Linda Bilmes. "They didn't know what hit them. They were completely overwhelmed." One result was that claims-processing times rose quickly.

These are excellent talking points for Republicans in Congress intent on politicizing the VA's extensive problems under President Barack Obama.

Except, Bilmes was talking about the VA's longstanding troubles under President George W. Bush in the 2000s. And those long delays in processing times? They occurred on Bush's watch.

As with any big, bureaucratic mess in Washington, the causes of the VA's current imbroglio go back years and involve multiple administrations, sessions of Congress and executive leadership teams.

Still, the failures of the Obama administration are inexcusable. It proclaimed early on that the VA would get extensive attention, failure would no longer be tolerated, money would flow to the right priorities and veterans would get the services they deserve.

So what went wrong?

-The VA's leadership team did not quickly enough use technology to get rid of its endless trails of paper documents that frustrated veterans. VA officials have ignored or hidden problems with wait times, especially for disability claims.

The Obama administration must work toward installing no-nonsense executives at the VA who will make the reforms needed to straighten things out.

-Bush and Congress backed wars that created hundreds of thousands of veterans. Yet the GOP has consistently blocked adequate funding for crucial health care programs for veterans. The GOP shares blame for this quagmire.

Going forward, Republicans must work with the Obama administration to fund the most essential programs to reduce wait times for veterans.

VA officials must find ways to more efficiently handle claims.

Dragging the current problems out as a game of political gotcha would be irresponsible. Our veterans deserve a united Congress and administration focused on serving those who have served our nation.

 

—The Kansas City Star, May 23