At first blush, we find it utterly inconceivable that top bureaucrats at the Phoenix office of the Department of Veterans Affairs could have used a dangerous scheme of data manipulation to hide horrendous patient service backlogs as a way to grab performance bonuses.
Then we think about the experience with the VA of thousands of military veterans in the Bay Area. Suddenly, it is not so far-fetched.
The charges against the Phoenix office came from a whistle-blower who is a retired 20-year employee of the VA.
Dr. Samuel Foote, who retired in December, asserted that the office crafted an elaborate and cynical plan that involved creating shadow lists for patient appointments so as to appear to be reducing their wait times for which the executives collected performance bonuses.
Foote said he made the accusations public because his complaints to his supervisors were ignored.
Foote's assertions are not being ignored now. At least two federal investigations have been launched and three Arizona members of Congress have called for the head of the Phoenix region to step down.
There certainly should be such investigations, and they should be extremely thorough. These charges are disgusting and extremely serious. All observers -- and we include ourselves here -- should reserve final judgment until all the facts are known.
In fact, a VA official said Wednesday that it is not finding evidence of such lists.
Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the VA's Veterans Health Administration, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that "To date, we have found no evidence of a secret list, and we have found no patients who have died because they have been on a wait list."
With all due respect, we would just as soon wait to hear reports from investigators outside of the VA. After all, a presidential press secretary once told us that Watergate was little more than a third-rate burglary; move along, nothing to see here. Ahem.
As we said, local experience tells us we should not dismiss these accusations out of hand.
Bay Area military veterans often roll their eyes and even curse when the subject of the Department of Veterans Affairs is raised.
That disgust has roots in what they feel has been the incompetence of the VA's Oakland region being one of the worst offices in the nation at processing their claims. Mind you, these are benefits that have already been earned.
It is true that things have been improving here -- at least, we think they have. But that improvement has been incremental, and it was the VA's bungling that caused the backlog in the first place.
The nation must demand that the investigations of these gravely serious charges be thorough, honest and complete. Our nation's veterans deserve nothing less.