Think of this as Volume 17, Number 21 written since 1997. Enjoy.
But the truth is that this isn't really a scandal at all. Not in the sense you're thinking, a deliberate theft of public funds by someone. It's scandalous, sure. But there's a difference.
At the heart of the scandal is the computing systems used by the military and the VA.
The military uses a system called AHLTA, which was built by contractors. It is proprietary. It has been a real mess. The military has constantly thrown money at AHLTA, hoping to make it work, but to no avail. The systems contractors have built with AHLTA money were deliberately made incompatible with Vista, so that the contractors could take their code and walk away if Uncle Sam decided they were ripping him off, which they were.
I began covering this story for ZDNet in 2006. At the time the Administration was deliberately starving VA of funds for VISTA development, and encouraging people like Roger Maduro to seek the first exit. The idea was that the VA code would wither and die, to be replaced by that of some contractor. Eventually, Cerner did win a contract to develop a lab system, which Vista already had.
This is the situation the Obama people walked into. There was a large obsolete code base, which some people in private industry were trying to build on, and there was this kludge. There was, and is, no way to connect the two, because (again) AHLTA is proprietary, and they don't have to give out that information.
There was also, coming down the pike, a huge spike in new entrants to the system. While the VA budget was increased, substantially, that didn't answer the problem, the incompatibility between the computerized record-keeping systems. Once people get into VA care, remember, they get in, and things move. It's getting in that's the problem.
This is not a problem you can just throw money at. We're talking about different file formats. You either order a change, which the Administration tried to do, but you get the slow-walk in that case, and claims that you're stealing someone's code. The Administration has also tried to update the Vista code, rewrite it under open source standards, but this means re-building the freeway while the cars are passing over it.
There is a vast bureaucracy, and a unique business model, around the defense establishment. The contracting model holds that you pay an enormous amount of money up-front to get in, and then you load those costs on, plus a handsome profit, once you're in. This is now a huge part of the U.S. economy, and it was grown under George W. Bush. The vast bureaucracy exists to both police and defend this model – it's hard to budge.
My friend John Weathersby has been fighting the good fight against this, on behalf of open source, for many years. His Open Source Software Institute https://oss-institute.org/ has probably done more work to reduce the cost of government, and with less thanks, than any other agency, anywhere. He has done it through many meetings and conferences, between open source companies and government bureaucrats, including Defense bureaucrats, all aiming to get more open source into the government, contract by contract, piece by piece.
Despite widespread support from the Administration for the open source concept, the ship takes time to turn, and there is always resistance to the turning. Many bureaucrats, tied to contractors, figure they can wait out any Administration, slow-walk things until their friends get in power, and then go to town. History shows they're right.
While all this grinds on, the backlog grows. As Iraq ends and Afghanistan is wound down, more and more servicemen and women find they can't re-enlist, and they come into the system with immense difficulties. Many of these difficulties make them reluctant to sort through a bureaucratic nightmare based on trying to find needles of paper in haystacks and judge whether their problems are service-related. (Hint, they are.)
Without some process, money is going to be wasted. There are people who will make false claims, or who will falsely claim, benefits to which they're not entitled. Some form of intake process is needed.
Once veterans get into the system, they are going to get treated like heroes, at least superficially, and they're going to get more care at lower cost than anywhere else in American medicine. The problem is getting into the system, finding the paperwork spat out by AHLTA and getting it into Vista. This whole process should be automatic, but it's not, and it's not going to be for a time.
The best solution is to take money out of the Defense Department budget and “out-place” veterans with the VA, taking the financial burden out of the VA and placing it on the Defense Department. And to do this with paid staff, not with contractors, which is the DoD's favored way of doing business.
But guess what that requires? Right. Congress. Think you're going to get anything out of this Congress? I don't. Until you fix Congress, until it's aligned with the will of the people, in the hands of the same party that holds the executive, you're not going to see an end to this nonsense.
And you won't, because it's not in the Republicans' interest, or the interest of their contractor friends, for this problem to be solved. They'd rather have the issue, and they'd rather see Jon Stewart sticking it to Barack Obama on The Daily Show than have him find out what's really going on or (worse) do something about it.