Monday, June 27, 2005

A Billion Missing Bucks? We've Got Other Problems First

The Veterans Affairs Department is coming up $1 billion short on what it needs to pay for vets' health care. So what was on the agenda for a weekly conference call over at the medical part of the VA?

The Secretary's picture.

You know, the Cabinet Secretary for each department gets his or her picture on the wall of every office under their charge.

And it turns out, some of those offices have been tardy in hanging up those pictures.

Al Kamen's In the Loop column at the Washington Post has an actual transcript of the conference call:

"Unfortunately, however," [Deputy Undersecretary Laura ] Miller continued, "there are many facilities that currently do not have the picture displayed. I am aware that the mailings of the pictures occurred on April 22, 2005." So that's more than five full weeks.

"Dr. Perlin" -- that's Jonathan B. Perlin , undersecretary for health, who revealed the $1 billion shortfall after being grilled by committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) -- "and I cannot stress the importance of this enough," she said. "We are asking that you give this your highest priority. We will continue to ask for daily updates on the status until we are assured that all of our facilities have a current picture displayed."

Not all VA officials put the picture as top priority. Mr Kamen talked to one who didn't want his name in print:

"And here we're trying to figure out where our next patient meal is coming from and what furniture to sell to buy drugs next year."

But just walking into a VA hospital and seeing Secretary Jim Nicholson's smiling face has got to make you feel better, huh? (WashPost)

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