OUR VIEW

Our View: Next VA chief has a lot on his plate

July 2, 2014 

We knew it would be impossible for President Barack Obama to pick the right person to be the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

If Obama had nominated a former general, he or she would have been criticized for being too close to the military. If Obama had nominated a medical administrator, she or he wouldn’t have had enough military experience. If Obama had nominated a member of Congress, he would have been accused of playing politics.

Still, we’re encouraged by Monday’s nomination of retired corporate executive Robert McDonald to lead the VA. If there’s one thing corporate America stresses, it is accountability. And that’s the one thing the VA needs.

McDonald’s task is enormous. Poor decisions in VA facilities have cost veterans their lives. Those responsible must be fired. And we doubt we’re at the bottom of this mess.

It’s not just fixing long waiting times, or wrestling with delays in disability benefits payments. It’s also restoring the morale of those VA employees who have been doing their jobs well. Many local veterans have written to praise their treatment by local administrative and medical staff. As the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, maybe he’ll know how to clean away undeserved stains.

But McDonald’s to-do list is long. He must also crack down on for-profit colleges ripping off both veterans and American taxpayers. Those schools rake in millions from the GI Bill while many of their students flounder. California is at the heart of this ripoff, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. Of the $1.5 billion in federal GI Bill benefits spent in California since 2009, more than 40 percent – $638 million – has gone to for-profit schools.

Four of those were campuses of the University of Phoenix, by far the biggest beneficiary. Over the last five years, the San Diego campus alone reaped $95 million from the GI Bill – more than the entire University of California system. Yet, University of Phoenix officials won’t say how many veterans graduate or find jobs. The overall graduation rate of the San Diego campus is less than 15 percent, while more than 25 percent default on loans within three years of leaving school. Is that because their degrees don’t help them find work?

The VA can’t fix this problem alone. Some of those lawmakers who have already criticized McDonald’s nomination have supported those for-profit colleges. Even after a 5,000-page report in 2012 detailed the problem, Congress failed to block schools without academic accreditation from receiving GI Bill money. Earlier this year, legislation to prevent for-profit schools with substandard graduation and loan default rates from receiving GI Bill money was gutted before its first committee hearing in the Assembly.

McDonald is a West Point graduate and spent five years in the military before moving to Procter & Gamble.

If he truly is the right person, we’ll know soon enough. How? Because those who should be helping veterans get the care, education and job training they need will be held accountable.

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