A Band-Aid Approach to Fixing the V.A.

Despite promises from the Bush-43 administration that the Iraq War would pay for itself, the price tag keeps soaring with the predictable impact on V.A. hospitals struggling to care for wounded warriors. But the political solution has been to make a change at the top, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

With a change of leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs, we will have a test of how much difference a top leader makes in how well a large organization functions. Will Robert McDonald get the department to have better reviews than it did under Eric Shinseki?

Maybe, but my guess is that if this happens, it will have more to do with the natural ebb and flow of recriminations in Washington than with anything having to do with the leadership skills or acumen of the person at the top.

President Obama signs the prosthetic arm of Marine Sgt. Carlos Evans during a tour of the White House for wounded veterans on March 6, 2012. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama signs the prosthetic arm of Marine Sgt. Carlos Evans during a tour of the White House for wounded veterans on March 6, 2012. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

There is ample reason to believe that the principal fundamental cause of problems in the department is under-funding related to insufficient recognition of the total, long-term costs of overseas wars. Those costs include, thanks partly to modern body armor, the long-term care of warriors who in earlier wars would have been killed but in recent ones have survived and are maimed.

Shinseki’s departure, moreover, bore all the markings of the Washington habit of head-rolling as a supposed solution to stubborn problems, when it really is more a sort of political catharsis.

McDonald’s appointment provides an opportunity for a related test. Any mention of the worth of a leader raises the question of the sky-high compensation that has become the norm among corporate CEOs, and of whether most of them could possibly be worth that much to an organization.

McDonald’s annual compensation as CEO of Procter & Gamble was about $16 million. The salary of a cabinet secretary is about $200,000. If there were a correspondence between compensation and worth, then we taxpayers ought to be gleeful about the steal of a deal we are getting. We’re hiring a leader who is 80 times as good as those who have never risen to fill anything more than the sort of U.S. cabinet position that McDonald is about to fill. Talk about someone being overqualified…

Before we get too excited about this deal, we might note the questions that have been raised about McDonald’s performance at Procter & Gamble. It’s not a good sign when the chief he replaced has been brought back to replace him. We might also note, if the size of an organization has anything to do with value of experience, that the Department of Veterans Affairs with its 300,000 employees is over twice as large as P&G with its 120,000.

Maybe taxpayers should be grateful to Mr. McDonald for taking a job that entails a 98.75 percent pay cut from his last position. That’s almost like doing the job pro bono. But I don’t think we’re really getting a $16 million man to do a $200,000 job. The numbers reflect the absurdly different cultures involved in self-referential corporate boardrooms, on one hand, and political attitudes toward public service, on the other.

There’s still that matter of underfunding the care of wounded warriors. There is a lot to be said for the idea of requiring that funding be provided for the future medical care of veterans as part of any decision to go to war. That not only might help the maimed veterans we already have but will encourage long, hard thinking before creating more of them.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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6 comments on “A Band-Aid Approach to Fixing the V.A.

  1. Joe Tedesky on said:

    I can’t wait to see how many Procter & Gamble products end up being purchased by the VA.

  2. TestPilotDummy on said:

    The VA was the beta test for Obamacare. At the VA they linked up the firearms database to the Spy database and put muscles and a bite behind it.

    The psychologists (false science) got bonuses for pushing that secret button under the counter and rolling the vet (who wont answer if they have guns) up to the psych ward, searching his home for firearms and letting his dog and cats starve. Not unlike being NDAA’d out of existence.

    I hear there’s 50 VA whistleblowers, none of it do I hear on corporate broadcast media, which tells me all I need to know that the whole damn thing needs to be cleaned and flushed out, and the perps never allowed back into ANY government agency for the rest of their miserable fascist, greedy lives.

    The problem isn’t the veterans, or the people owning firearms, the problem is this country is under a COUP from the inside by a pack of spying, thieving, murdering oath breaking scum who apparently hated the US Constitution when they rose their hands and took those oaths.

    What’s going to fix this, is a large expansion at Ft Leavenworth for the INDICTED LEADERS who drove this country into all these twisted messes.

    That obamacare crap has to go too.
    And that Gun Database crap.
    And that spying Crap!
    It must all go

    Or this country is TOAST.

  3. TestPilotDummy on said:

    The VA was the beta test for Obamacare. At the VA they linked up the firearms database to the Spy database and put muscles (false science psychiatrists) and a bite (a series of unconstitutional laws) behind it.

    The psychologists (false science) got bonuses for pushing that secret button under the counter and rolling the vet (who wont answer if they have guns) up to the psych ward, searching his home for firearms and letting his dog and cats starve. Not unlike being NDAA’d out of existence. Not unlike what now is happening in hospitals across America.

    I hear there’s 50 VA whistleblowers, YET. none of it do I hear on corporate broadcast media, which tells me all I need to know that the whole damn thing needs to be cleaned and flushed out, and the perps never allowed back into ANY government agency for the rest of their miserable fascist, greedy lives.

    The problem isn’t the veterans, or the people owning firearms, the problem is this country is under a COUP from the inside by a pack of spying, thieving, murdering oath breaking scum who apparently hated the US Constitution when they rose their hands and took those oaths. The people owning firearms is the only thing stopping the banksters and corruption from picking our corpses clean.

    What’s going to fix this, is a large expansion at Ft Leavenworth for the INDICTED LEADERS who drove this country into all these twisted messes.

    That obamacare crap has to go too.
    And that Gun Database crap.
    And that spying Crap!
    It must all go
    The US Constitution must be restored.
    That IS THE PROBLEM

    • Clark on said:

      “The individual is handicapped by coming face-to-face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists.” Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
      “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” John F. Kennedy
      “Those who have been intoxicated with power… can never willingly abandon it.”
      – Edmund Burke
      Orwell: No one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.
      Charles Sullivan “We allow the most atrocious lies uttered by political and moral prostitutes to go unchallenged. These lies are endlessly recycled in the commercial media until they become ingrained in the public conscience as truth”?

  4. Ron Harwell on said:

    Anyone coming out of the corporate world is all about profits, cutting costs, etc. and will not fix the VA. This clown will not be a people person, or Veteran friendly, and will not have the best interests of any of us Vets foremost. It is my observation those working as volunteers, interns, from other hospitals (specialists, MD’s, etc.) all have the complaint about management being poor and political. They all complain about funding shortages and the shortage of personnel needed to handle the workload, and cases. The facility in Miami is probably one of the better ones, but I seldom see the same doctors/specialists over repeat visits as they are rotated in on an average of 90 days, sometimes less. Even at this facility, as friendly and helpful as everyone seems to be, morale is seems low. This corporate tool will not be able to fix any of this.