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After Shinseki's misrule, VA needs accountability: Column

The VA is more than one man, and it's important to remember that the secretary's departure is not the final word on the VA's woes. This should not be seen as an end, but a beginning. Now comes the hard work of turning around a deeply troubled agency.

For the last several weeks, it looked as if the VA was hoping to "run out the clock" on this scandal. The thinking appeared to be that if Shinseki and the rest of the status quo leadership could simply hang on, the uproar over falsified records, secret wait lists, destroyed documents, preventable patient deaths and corrupt bonuses paid to VA executives would subside, and the media spotlight would shift elsewhere.

Some at the VA and in the Obama administration may hope that Shinseki's resignation proves that the VA problem is solved. But the urge to simply "move on" must be resisted. With the change in leadership, the opportunity now emerges for the VA to embrace a true culture of reform, accountability and integrity in its operations.

And I still believe that's possible, even though I've been a vocal critic of the department's leadership. Having worked at the VA from 2001-2009, I know from my own experience that there are many, many good employees at the department — hardworking, caring professionals who are devoted to caring for veterans and their families, and who want to see the department deliver on the promise of its mission.

However, for far too long, these dedicated and qualified employees have seen their efforts stymied and stifled by poor leadership, poor accountability and a calcified bureaucratic culture that seems more interested in self-preservation than honoring the VA mission. Fresh, reform-minded leadership is needed to bolster the top performers and hold the poor performers to account.

Most importantly, during this transition, those who have dedicated themselves to pushing for reform at the department should keep it up.

The media organizations and reporters who have exposed misconduct and mismanagement at the VA should continue digging into the roots of the department's dysfunction.

Members of Congress who have asserted more oversight of the flailing department should continue to demand change. A good place to start would be with demanding an up-or-down vote on Senator Marco Rubio's VA Management Accountability Act in the Senate.

This bill, which already passed the House of Representatives by a large bipartisan majority, would empower the next VA secretary to remove and replace executives who fail to perform. It's a critical and common sense reform that would go a long way toward starting the VA on the road to repair.

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