U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud says he was trying to fix the problems slowly being revealed in the Veterans Affairs health care system. His opponents in the governor’s race – Republican Gov. LePage and independent Eliot Cutler – say he wasn’t doing nearly enough.
The truth is somewhere in between. It is much too simplistic to lay the failures of the huge and complex VA system at Michaud’s feet, but the clouds had been gathering for years, and the Maine congressman was one of many who didn’t adequately prepare for the coming storm.
Much of the attention has been on the 18 reports on patient wait times delivered by the VA Office of the Inspector General to the Veterans Affairs Committee, where Michaud has served for 12 years and is now the ranking Democrat.
The first report is dated July 8, 2005 (“Audit of the Veterans Health Administration’s Outpatient Scheduling Procedures”) and the last Sept. 6, 2013 (“Healthcare Inspection – Gastroenterology Consult Delays, William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center, Columbia, South Carolina”).
Each report details the allegations, the ensuing inspection, the recommendations of the Office of the Inspector General and whether those recommendations were accepted by the medical center and its overseeing network.
Individually, the reports are fairly standard, and in each case, the recommendations by inspectors and promises of follow-ups rightfully met the expectations of the committee.
But taken as a whole, the reports show a health care system stressed at the seams. There were indications the waiting time increases were not isolated, and at least hints that the times were being manipulated and the wait lists mismanaged.
Someone should have noticed and pushed loudly for reform. Many people are on that list, but Michaud is one of them, and he has not done well at articulating why the scope of the problems was not recognized earlier.
This issue is just a small part of Michaud’s overall record, and it does not blemish him in the way LePage and Cutler suggest.
It is, however, relevant to the campaign. Michaud’s committee was moving through the issue the way a legislative body does. Michaud has had success in that realm – in fact, he addressed veterans’ health care access through the committee, bringing service to rural Aroostook County.
But the game will change if he’s elected to lead Maine’s executive branch. That will require a different kind of leadership, and Michaud has until Nov. 4 to show that he’s up to the task.