For the first three years of the Bush administration pressure had been mounting on the Department of Veterans ' Affairs (VA) as veterans tried to enroll for benefits in unprecedented numbers.
There were, literally, too many veterans for the VA 's increasingly limited healthcare budget to handle. Waiting lists were created as veterans lined up at VA facilities seeking healthcare benefits. The waiting lists grew and by the middle of 2003 there were somewhere between 218,000 and 309,000 veterans waiting to enroll. (The number was in question. A VA Inspector General report found that the VA was keeping such sloppy records no one knew for sure.)
Major veterans ' service organizations claimed that even the VA 's high number was too low. Some well-educated guesses placed the number of veterans on the VA 's waiting lists at close to 500,000.
The Solution, Sort Of
So, the White House made a promise and posted it on their web site: "Will have eliminated waiting lists for veterans in need of medical care in 2004. " And, they did just that. But, not the way you might think.
The VA, feeling the White House pressure, hired more clerks to staff enrollment offices at hospitals around the country. And, for the most part, the long waiting lists disappeared as veterans got into the VA system and picked up their red-white-and-blue ID card. Veterans thought the waiting lists had disappeared. After all, they were enrolled in the VA system and healthcare was right around the corner.
Going into the 2004 election, President Bush was able to claim that he had eliminated the long lists of veterans waiting for healthcare at VA hospitals. Pre-election polls showed veterans favoring Bush over Senator John Kerry by 58% to 35% and those numbers held through to Election Day.
But, it didn 't take long for veterans to realize that something was wrong. Even though they were enrolled in the VA system, they weren 't getting the healthcare they had been promised. They had to wait and wait and wait.
The Waiting List Shuffle
Veterans soon discovered that the promise of "no more waiting lists " meant no more waiting OUTSIDE the VA system. Now the wait was INSIDE the system and the wait was just as long or longer.