The scandal involving delays in care at Veterans Administration facilities continues to grow, and with it, the desperation of some media outlets to score political points against President Obama.
At Friday's White House Daily Briefing, ABC News' Jon Karl used false assertions to attack the White House over its support of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a dreadful echo of Karl's conduct regarding Benghazi.
Is he trying to turn the V.A. scandal into another #Benghazi-style clown show?
The very serious allegations under investigation now have to do with the maintenance of fraudulent waiting lists at VA facilities that have resulted in delayed care, and in deaths. The disability claims backlog is a completely separate issue, as I pointed out on Tuesday, and which Carney pointed out on Wednesday. Conflating the two isn't just wrong. it is dangerous, because it muddies the issue, and distracts from the solution of a longstanding problem that causes immediate, tangible harm.
That didn't stop Jon Karl, who has a long record of dishonest attacks on this White House, from making just such a connection, in an effort to attack the White House for continuing to support Shinseki. "I've heard you, and I've hear others at the White House, talk about the V.A. having a good record on dealing with the backlog of claims, and actually praising the V.A. on this issue," Karl said at Friday's briefing. "In light of this... we learn more about problems, not just in the Arizona office, but in other parts of the country, are you still saying the Veterans Administration's done a good job in dealing with the backlog of claims? I mean, are you still gonna say that?"
Carney thanked Karl for the question, and reminded him of the prior several times he's pointed out that these are two separate issues. He again pointed out the progress that's been made on the disability claims, and the actions underway to investigate the allegations in Phoenix. "I just wanted to make sure that it was understood that the disability claims issue is not the same issue that is being discussed when we talk about the allegations in Phoenix," Carney concluded.
"Part of the confusion is that when you, and others, have been asked about problems in terms of veterans getting the health care they need and deserve, you've answered with talking points on the disability claims backlog," Karl said.
Actually, no. It was Karl who first brought up the claims backlog, at Monday's briefing, and got it "confused" with the Phoenix allegations, lest you think that Karl's attack today was the result of honest confusion. Since then, Carney has, on multiple occasions, explained the difference, and warned against conflating them. His praise of Shinseki has also been more broad than the handling of the claims backlog. On Wednesday, Carney told reporters that "we’ve enrolled, at the VA under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership 2 million veterans in high-quality VA health care, reducing veterans’ homelessness by 24 percent, providing post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to more than 1 million students," in addition to the work on the claims backlog.
Later in the briefing, Fox News' Ed Henry badgered Carney about why President Obama hasn't spoken publicly about the issue since he first announced the investigation two weeks ago, a ballsy move considering that Henry's own network falsely reported that the President hadn't spoken publicly about it at all.
All of this is not to say that the White House is necessarily correct in its support of Secretary Shinseki. The problems at the V.A. are heart-attack serious, and have been going on for a long time. The question at this point should be whether firing Shinseki offers the best chance to fix a stubborn problem at a dense bureaucracy, or should he be kept on the job to fix it. Is there someone who could step in and do it better?
To its credit, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearings have been relatively non-partisan and apolitical. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of some in the media.
Update: In a late-Friday news dump, the White House announced the resignation of V.A. Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. Here's a statement from Jay Carney (via email from The White House):
Today Secretary Shinseki accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, Under Secretary for Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The President supports Secretary Shinseki’s decision.As the President has said, America has a sacred trust with the men and women who have served our country in uniform and he is committed to doing all we can to ensure our veterans have access to timely, quality health care. He has asked Secretary Shinseki to conduct a review of Veterans Health Administration practices and procedures at its facilities nationwide to ensure better access to care, and that review is ongoing. This review is one of the many steps the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking to ensure our veterans have confidence in and access to the care and benefits they have earned and deserve. The President and Secretary Shinseki take the allegations around misconduct very seriously, and Secretary Shinseki has committed to taking appropriate actions based on the findings of the independent VA Office of Inspector General investigation. Both the President and the Secretary thank Dr. Petzel for his many years of service to veterans.
Update: Our old pals at RealClearPolitics are at it again, chopping this exchange down and lying about it. "ABC's Jon Karl vs. Carney on VA Hospital Scandal: "Progress Has Happened" Under Shinseki" is their lying headline, when Carney was, if course, talking about the disability claims backlog. Let's see if they change it. Good company you're in, ABC News.