This morning, the nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, withdrew from consideration for the post.
What does this mean for VA and FTCA claims?
First, some background is important. The last VA Secretary, David Shulkin, was relieved on March 28, 2018. Since then, VA has been run by an "acting" Secretary, Robert wilkie. From the time VA Secretary was elevated to a cabinet-level position in the 1980s, the acting VA secretary has already had executive experience at VA before being appointed. The first, Anthony Principi was second in command at VA, when he was appointed Acting Secretary. The second, Hershel Gober, was also second in command. Same with Gordon Mansfield and Sloan Gibson. The only exception was Bob Snyder. As Chief of Staff, he was third in command. So, every acting secretary was in a top-level executive position at VA when they were appointed. Wilkie was not. In fact, he has never even worked for VA. Certainly, the value of a VA Secretary or acting Secretary having had experience with VA is debatable. Of more concern, however, is that Wilkie currently holds an important job in another Federal Department. He is the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Essentially, he is responsible for ensuring our troops are prepared for deployment and combat. That should keep anyone very busy.
Meanwhile, VA announced in mid-April, that it has taken "decisive actions" that will "address lingering deficiencies in its health-care system once and for all." This announcement is in response the Government Accountability Office (GAO) having placed VA on a "high risk" list. Every 2 years at the start of a new Congress, GAO publishes a list of agencies or program areas that have noteworthy vulnerabilities to "fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement." The GAO put VA on the high risk list because they were concerned about VA’s ability to ensure its resources are being used cost-effectively and efficiently to improve veterans’ timely access to health care, and to ensure the quality and safety of that care. VA was originally placed on the High Risk list in 2015. It remained on the list in 2017. VA hopes to be off the list in 2019.
Add to that the extra work VA has undertaken with the Appeals Modernization and Improvement Act, which added an extra lane for benefits claims' appeals, and the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which has led to some re-organization inside VA.
Ordinarily, I would be skeptical of VA's ability to solve its problems in such short amount of time. However, recent events make me even more skeptical. The last VA secretary was let go in March, the most recent nominee just bowed out, and the acting Secretary should be too busy with his regular job. If a problem with VA was timeliness of services - whether you're talking about benefits appeals, receiving medical care, or filing an FTCA claim - in my opinion, things just got much worse.