Skip to main content

5 ways to fix the broken VA

By Jim Nussle
updated 5:02 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jim Nussle says even as the VA scandal gets worse, we have a duty to fix a broken system
  • New allegations of secret lists and a coverup have surfaced at the Phoenix VA
  • Nussle: If ever there was a bipartisan problem in need of bipartisan solutions, this is it

Editor's note: Jim Nussle represented Iowa congressional districts from 1991 to 2007, was chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2001 to 2007 and served as director of the Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration. He is an adviser for Results for America, an initiative of America Achieves, an organization dedicated to improving education. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- With the latest reports of fake lists of dead veterans and alleged electronic coverups still going on at Phoenix Veterans Administration hospital, it's clear the disaster that has become the VA is just getting worse.

So now more than ever, we have a duty to call on our leaders to right the wrongs we have found and prevent more from taking place.

Our veterans, who survived hand grenades and bullets, are now facing a growing threat from three-ring binders and manila folders -- and a VA culture reluctant to measure, too slow to adapt and not responsive to their needs.

To truly fix this problem, we must follow where the evidence takes us.

Jim Nussle
Jim Nussle

For thousands of veterans in this country -- and those returning home from more than a decade at war -- the stakes could not be higher. The true cost of an antiquated system, slow technological upgrades, and the inability to track performance of the system itself can now be measured in thousands waiting far too long for care, and perhaps the tragic deaths of our brave heroes who may have waited too long for care.

The next leader of the VA has a lengthy to-do list. After all, Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation did not reduce any backlogs or streamline the complex bureaucracy that exists and has harmed our veterans. And virtually all of those responsible for setting up and maintaining the culture of deception that has produced this scandal still have jobs.

Until we can accurately measure and use information to evaluate what works and what doesn't -- and then address the problems our veterans face -- the rooms piled full of files and paperwork are not going anywhere, and veterans will continue to be neglected.

The VA has had challenges under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- and if ever there was a bipartisan problem in need of bipartisan solutions, this is it. Here's where we should start:

1. Improve the systems: We must continue to modernize the VA system through technology and data-driven approaches that demand results and make evaluation possible. The transition to electronic medical records is good, but not enough.

2. Collect and evaluate data: The backlog, and outdated and inaccurate tracking systems, fogged our ability to realize the scope of the problem and provide the care veterans deserve. The VA has an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and change their culture to one that tracks results and is responsive to the data they collect. American veterans deserve a system that meets the standard of excellence they set through their service. Collecting data from not only the investigations, but into the future as well will enable the VA to evaluate what is working and what needs more attention, funding or repair.

Rep. Miller: 'Where has media been?'
Outrage: VA bill fattening, not fixing
Veteran not evaluated for eight years

3. Meet the needs of veterans through smart deployment of resources: As a former chairman of the House Budget Committee and director of the Office of Management and Budget, I can safely say that throwing money at a problem hasn't and doesn't fix it -- and neither does blindly cutting funding. I am glad the VA was spared from sequestration cuts, as the VA has, despite funding increases, a classic problem of supply and demand. They have a lack of sufficient doctors and health care workers to meet the growing needs of all veterans, including aging vets and those returning from two protracted wars. The VA must now ask: What does the evidence in other health care systems tell us about how to efficiently meet the needs of veterans, while strengthening the quality of care and VA health system itself? Funding boosts for an antiquated system alone won't help, but looking at what works in other health delivery systems, as well successful public and market strategies will.

4. Establish strong leadership and bipartisan buy-in: A lengthy and political Senate confirmation process for Secretary Shinseki's replacement will do nothing for our veterans. What the VA needs now is strong leadership and bipartisan support for the next secretary which will give that individual a mandate to change the culture and fix the broken systems.

5. Listen to the customers: In business, there is no substitute for listening to the customers. The same goes for our nation's veterans. A nationally representative survey of veterans accessing the VA health care system should be conducted immediately to fully understand the depth and breadth of the problems they have faced beyond long waiting periods for their appointments. It will also give the new VA leadership some informative data.

Together, we must get the facts, follow the evidence, listen to the veterans themselves, and we should use this as an opportunity for evidence-based, transformational change.

We made a promise to our military members and their families. It is our duty to keep it.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT