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 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 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
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT