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The VA Scandal

When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did their now-legendary reporting in the 1970s, they shone a spotlight on abuse of power and corruption that led to the resignation of a president. It was the epitome of what a free press can do when it fulfills its constitutional role and duty.

But Watergate was the story of one man – Richard Nixon – and his administration.

The VA scandal is something larger: systemic, entrenched corruption at one of our biggest federal agencies. The Department of Veterans Affairs employs more than 300,000 people and has an annual budget just north of $150 billion – and of those 300,000-plus workers, just 5,100 of them are primary-care doctors.

Is it any wonder that our ailing and wounded veterans face endless (and often life-threatening) waits for treatment?

No one person can take the blame for this mess; no one person caused it. Nor can any one person fix it.

But every now and then, truthful statements slip from the lips of Obama administration officials. One of those times was when David Axelrod admitted that the federal government was so sprawling that it was nearly impossible for anyone to keep track of it.

Imagine what would happen if an army of muckraking reporters set upon the VA. Or 1,000 FBI agents with state-of-the-art forensic and investigative tools and powers. Imagine the full panoply of VA corruption and abuse that would be put on display for the world to see.

The moral rot exposed courtesy of the inspector general's report is bad enough: those waiting lists and wait times at the Arizona VA hospital were the rule – not the exception. The secret waiting lists were not the doing of one or two bad managers; they lay at the corrupt and deceitful heart of a rotten system.

For many observers, the VA scandal, as bad as it is, is an outlier. But to those of us wary of unelected bureaucrats with no checks on their power, the VA scandal was thoroughly predictable, if not inevitable. It's just the tip of the federal-colossus iceberg.

In a day and age when it is needed more than ever, less and less journalism is practiced in our country. We have reached a point where many journalists industriously and without qualm are engaged in PR work for the Obama administration.

Great investigative journalism, if it existed today, could pull the curtain back on a vast tableau of dysfunction in our federal agencies; such a spectacle might forever change how Americans see their government. A torrential and cleansing wave of practical, private-sector solutions might sweep away or at least address much of what afflicts us on a societal level.

The VA's inefficiency is a scourge and an outrage, but is it any surprise when there's no alternative for its clientele and its employees know their jobs are safe no matter how poorly they perform? In the private sector, the threat of competition keeps employers and employees on their toes. That is an unchanging, undying part of human nature.

Big-government bureaucracies will always be cesspits of corruption. Only a vigilant and engaged fourth estate can remedy that.

"The VA health-care system is a disaster," wrote Hal Scherz in the Wall Street Journal recently. "Throwing more money at the system, or demanding the scalps of top bureaucrats — Washington's reflexive response to any problem of this sort — won't repair the mess. What's needed is a fundamental rethinking of how to provide medical care for America's veterans... The VA health-care system is run by a centrally controlled federal bureaucracy. Ultimately, that is the source of the poor care veterans receive."

That's the real core of the VA crisis. And it's the story that's not really being told, because we don't have journalists who are willing to tell it.