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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A REAL SCANDAL




I posted the two segments from Wednesday night's The Rachel Maddow Show where she discussed the crisis surrounding the Veterans Affairs Hospital system along with coverage by The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. In the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital system, there were allegations of doctoring wait lists that resulted in the deaths of 40 patients. Many other VA systems faces the same accusations of doctoring wait lists.

The scandal has led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs official Robert Petzel and calls for Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Vietnam War Veteran Max Cleland, who held the same position as Shinseki did when he was in the Carter administration, calls for calm and presents the facts of the matter. As does retired Army General and commander of Afghanistan forces Stanley McChrystal in a recent interview with the Today show.

President Obama is promising accountability and finding solutions to this problem. The White House is sending Deputy Chief of Staff Ron Nabors to investigate the deaths linked to the Phoenix VA system. Rep. Tammy Duckwork (D, IL) who is an Iraq War Veteran and former Veterans Affairs assistant secretary prior to being elected to Congress said in an interview about this very issue that she is, “Unfortunately,(not) surprised. When you have a network as big as VA with everything [Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki] is trying to do, I think it’s very conceivable that somebody would try to do what supposedly happened in Phoenix, because they feel they need to try to needle the metrics. That bothers me a lot. I want to know how many of the facilities are doing this.”

This is a real scandal.

Instead of leading a purely politically generated campaign on trying to score points for the next presidential election, Congress could do something productive. Instead the House is interested in going down the Benghazi rabbit hole and the Senate is paralyzed by a minority number of senators exploiting the filibuster rules.

Saying we will take care of our veterans (like myself) is an easy political point to make because we are expected to do that and is an easy applause line. To enact those policies where we will take care of our veterans is showing easier said than done.

If you are suddenly outraged and jumping on the fire Shinseki bandwagon along with the boo Obama crowd, sadly this is nothing new and it is not limited to what is happening right now.

For starters there was the massive VA paperwork backlog which has been regularly covered by The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. In some cases the backlog has resulted in a year to hear back on a claim. The paperwork backlog has become so bad that fire marshals had to condemn buildings because of the amount of paper AND the weight of it causing the floors to buckle. Veterans groups such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has been leading the charge to counter the backlog and a way to decrease the wait time.

The comic strip Terminal Lance documents the circus hoops veterans have to jump through in order to claim their benefits. The creator also provides some insight and commentary on this very issue. This was published in June 2012.

Let's not forget why there are so many veterans putting in claims for injuries suffered in our battles. Since October 2001, we have been in combat operations in Afghanistan. From March 2003 to December 2011 we were in Iraq. Wars have a way of creating people who come back with combat related injuries.

Instead of beefing up funding to the Veterans Administration in anticipation of the number of war wounded, the Bush administration cut funding to the VA Hospital System. In a March 2007 interview with NPR, American Legion National Commander Paul Morin said that he blames the President and Congress for insufficient funding the VA health care system. It was that same year that a story regarding neglect at the Walter Reed medical center came to light.

Ah... Congress. Speaking of which, Senators John Thune (R, SD) and Marco Rubio (R, FL) were trying to blame the Obama administration on this current crisis facing the VA. In February 2014, a bill proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) would have expanded healthcare and education programs to veterans. It would have created 27 new VA hospitals and medical facilities which would have alleviated the strain due to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans using VA health care.

The bill had majority support, 56-41, but this is the Senate we're talking about so there needed to be 60 votes in order to overcome the filibuster.

Take a good guess how Senators Thune and Rubio voted?

They both voted no along with Senators Cruz and Cornyn of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain of Arizona. The reason because Senator Mitch McConnell (R, KY) wanted to add Iran sanctions to the bill. Please explain to me what does Iran sanctions have to do with making sure that veterans have health care and training because I don't see the connection.

The only time that Senator Cruz wants to help veterans is if it involves a photo op. And both Senators McCain and Graham are strong advocates for deploying our military for whatever recent global conflict (Georgia, Libya, Syria, Ukraine), but as shown by their recent votes they are unwilling to pay for the cost of those that are injured in those proposed conflicts.

Senator Richard Burr (R, NC) published this letter to his website questioning the priorities of veterans organizations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) were none too pleased. It should be noted that Burr was one of the 41 senators that blocked the bill that would have increased access of healthcare to veterans. At this link is the letter the VFW sent to Senator Burr. The last paragraph pretty sums up what veteran organizations are going to do in the next couple of election cycles.

The National Journal points out others who have attributed to the issues surrounding the Veterans Administration. Besides President Obama, President Bush, and Congress, the article cites problems with VA leadership in their inability to process claims and change with the times along with placing the blame on the administrations from George H.W. Bush all the way back to John F. Kennedy.

As pointed out by Jon Stewart, there is historical precedent of reneging our promises to our veterans. One such notable example was at the height of the Depression in May 1932 when World War I Veterans marched on Washington, DC demanding they were paid bonuses that were promised to them which would not be redeemed until 1945. This was the famous Bonus Army March which they called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force.

Instead of their bonus, they were cleared out by soldiers commanded by General Douglas MacArthur and battle tanks under the command of then-Major George S. Patton. At the time, then-Major Dwight D. Eisenhower advised that MacArthur should not have led an action against American war veterans. Patton told Joe Angelo, a man who saved his life in World War I and was later one of the Bonus Marchers, that he did not know this man and that he was to be escorted out of the capitol.

I could go on with other examples of our government not living up to the promise we made to our veterans, but I am going to close this out with the following things.

For those that want to attack the VA as a whole, they need to understand that there are many good people who are trying to do their best with the resources they have at their disposal. Many of these people who serve in the VA are veterans themselves trying to help their brothers and sisters and their families with their needs ranging from education, job training, health care, and other benefits.

For starters I am aware that today is Memorial Day and should be a day absence of politics. As I stated on Veterans Day in 2013, these days are the perfect time to talk politics. Over the last decade we made decisions in foreign policy that have an impact on veterans like myself. We bore the brunt of our overseas engagements.

Representative Duckworth summed her outrage in that same interview with the Washington Post.

“I am pissed off about folks who would do this. I sort of feel like, damn it, your loyalty is to the veteran. Your loyalty is not to a hospital director or an undersecretary. Your loyalty is to a veteran.”

I volunteered for the Navy during my senior year of high school. I served for six years on active duty and received my honorable discharge. Representative Duckworth (ESPECIALLY her), countless other veterans, and myself upheld our end of the bargain we made with our country. It is long past time that this nation upholds its promise to its veterans.

The real scandal is if continue to break our promise to our veterans. The real scandal is if we continue to do nothing and allow the politics of division to get in the way of solving this problem that has been long in this country's existence.


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