The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has traditionally been underfunded and the target of politicians. During and after the Vietnam War, veterans were shamefully treated, and some of the facilities that were called hospitals more closely resembled what one would find in third world countries. In 1970 I had to be treated at a VA clinic in Manhattan and recall how surprised I was at the dreariness, dirty floors, unpainted and scarred walls, etc. I will refrain from describing what the treating doctor told me about how bad it really was because it could ruin your appetite.
Things have gotten better over the years, but there is room for a lot more improvement. Just maybe there isn’t enough money being appropriated by the congress to adequately treat veterans, so it’s fair to ask why the VA seems to always fall short of getting what it needs to provide the necessary care veterans rightfully expect and deserve. What our gung ho chicken hawk representatives and other tough talking conservatives fail to address when they seem anxious to engage in one conflict or another, is the lengthy tail of costs for veterans care arising from each war. There are still some beneficiaries receiving survivors benefits from the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World War I. The uniformed men and women of the 911 era will be seeking benefits into the next century. The cost is in the trillions, but when do you hear a discussion of this by our elected officials.
Even worse is how our representatives give rah rah speeches on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but try pinning them down on appropriations for the VA. Like supporting tax reform, these same politicians mouth support for veterans that doesn’t measure up to their needs. Great rhetoric in both instances, just short on delivery. They also support private funding of various veterans treatment projects that should be the burden of the taxpayers. No veteran should ever be at the mercy of the largess of the private sector for what his country asked him to do.
This leads to the issue of whether the Secretary of the VA, General Eric Shinseki, should be forced out. My own opinion is that barring evidence of his knowing, or having reason to know of egregious misconduct by subordinates in Phoenix, Chicago, and Albuquerque, Shinseki should be allowed to continue on. It is inconceivable at this point that Shinseki would have tolerated for a millisecond the falsifying of patient appointment records. There are a few thousand veteran treatment facilities to include hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and rehab centers. I’ve seen no evidence that this latest scandal is widespread and systemic. I do see a system that continues to be underfunded, a system that proves that you get what you pay for. It is also a system notorious for fraudulent claims, and unfortunately the reaction has been to make the application process so cumbersome that it hurts those with legitimate injuries.
I heard Rush Limbaugh, a Vietnam chicken hawk, making fun of Obama because Obama was described as being “madder than hell” at the latest wrongdoing in the VA. From the safety of his Palm Beach microphone where he pontificates on actual and perceived shortcomings of the president and Democrats, Limbaugh suggests that Obama should have known about the VA scandal, and that Shinseki should be fired. If every official were to be canned for every misdeed committed under him, whether he had no way of knowing about it, there would be no government. When Limbaugh can tell his listeners what he has done for his country, what deferments he took advantage of during Vietnam, what organizations he has led, he might gain a scintilla of credibility.
General Eric Shinseki left part of his foot in Vietnam where he was awarded the Purple Heart among other decorations. He was Army Chief of Staff under Bush who was forced to retire when his projections for troop levels in Iraq following the war were at odds with the chicken hawks in the Pentagon and Dick Chaney, Chief Chicken Hawk. No one from the White House or ranking Pentagon official attended Shinseki’s retirement dinner. Obama called him out of retirement to be the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since then, among other things, Shinseki has cleaned up the backlog of Agent Orange claims and streamlined the process for those with related disabilities. Obama put the right man in this job. He should be allowed to finish it even if with only the limited resources at his disposal.