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The VA scandal: Should we expand the federal failure?

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July 16, 2014 | 3,316 views | Post a comment

By Dr. Gary Welton

Wikipedia has called it the Veterans Health Administration Scandal of 2014. An audit released in early June found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting or never got care, and that records were intentionally vague, misleading, and falsified. More recent reports, as announced by CNN, indicate that at least seven times in the last year, records that showed that veterans died while waiting for care were altered or rewritten by someone else; the changes listed the veterans as living, not deceased, essentially hiding their deaths.

In another report, CNN said that one veteran with a service-related psychiatric condition was in the facility for eight years before he received a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation; in another case, a veteran only had one psychiatric note in his medical chart in seven years. The story continues to unfold, as the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency that protects whistleblowers, is still investigating more than 50 whistleblower disclosures alleging patient health or safety at the VA nationwide.

At one level, the scandal suggests that the responsible government officials failed to perform their assigned jobs, and high-level administrators need to be replaced. At another level, however, the scandal suggests that, as Ronald Reagan once put it, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”

We owe respect, honor, and care to our American veterans. This scandal demonstrates, however, that the current big-government solution has failed our veterans. Data show that we currently have 21.6 million living veterans, some of whom require expensive and extensive medical care. It is embarrassing and humiliating that we have done so poorly on behalf of our military heroes. Our federal government has failed, big time.

My question today is this: Given that our federal government has shown ineptitude in serving 21.6 million living veterans, why is the federal government trying to expand their control of 21 million college students?

In a recent meeting, the president of one of the six regional independent accrediting agencies said, “The federal Department of Education wants to regulate practically everything.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) reports (June 26, 2014) that Senate Democrats have put forward a 785-page bill to renew the Higher Education Act. The article reports that “Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Senate education committee, said he wanted to add provisions to reform accreditation.” Another June 26 article in the CHE quoted Ted Mitchell, the undersecretary of education, who called for the federal government to take over monitoring functions currently being handled by the accrediting agencies.

The current accreditation system, primarily functioning under these six regional accreditors, is not a perfect system. The accreditation guidelines and standards continue to evolve and improve. Yet, it is fair to ask whether the federal government would create a better system. If the federal government continues to take greater control over the accreditation of America’s unique and diverse educational system, will the federal government do a better job than the independent accrediting agencies?

The failures of the federal government in handling veterans’ medical care, for 21.6 million living veterans, raises serious questions about the federal government’s ability to monitor the higher education of 21 million students. My vote is to allow the independent accrediting agencies, on the basis of the strength of these independent and experienced bodies, to continue their work. I have no assurance that the federal government would do as well.

Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.
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