It was the first time the president addressed the VA scandal and it came almost a month after the story broke. But the speech was more detailed than anything that had yet come from the White House and sounded all the more forceful coming after VA Secretary Shinseki’s tepid appearance before Congress last week.
Had this speech come two weeks—or even 10 days—ago, it might have been taken in good faith as a signal that real accountability was coming in short order. But for many, that moment has passed. What was once a structural problem within the VA, a severe but manageable internal issue, has now taken on political dimensions that make solving the actual healthcare challenges for veterans more difficult. In early May, this was a VA scandal. Now, with everyone from Sean Hannity to Rush Limbaugh weighing in, it’s become a political circus—the “Vetghazi” they were waiting for.
“It is important that our veterans don’t become another political football,” the president said. And he’s right, of course. But this has already become a political issue, though it didn’t need to be that way.
Inevitably we’ve arrived at the point, call it the political event horizon, where substantive discussions about the VA’s serious problems may be lost in the vortex of Benghazi and death panels invocations.
“I know the death panel is obviously a factor in certain cases,” Rush Limbaugh said knowingly of the VA crisis, “whether they want to admit it or not.” It was a point Sean Hannity later picked up on and repeated for his radio show.
The opportunity hasn’t been lost on advocates of dismantling the VA and privatizing veteran’s health care. Privatization was brought up repeatedly to the veterans’ service organizations at last week’s Senate testimony, and unanimously rejected by them, including by conservative-leaning groups that were present. But the fact that veterans themselves overwhelmingly reject privatizing the VA hasn’t stopped the idea from picking up steam, in fact it’s getting more free publicity now than it has in a long time.
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