As I had feared, the mess at the Veteran’s Administration has fallen to the back burner. Obviously, it doesn’t stand up to the “sexy” tag that the news media needs to cover a story. The political stunt of Boehner suing the President and the border crisis have top billing. In the meantime, millions of veterans are still left in the dark alleys and not getting the help they need.
Then, all of the bills that are being proposed to “fix” the VA won’t actually fix it. They are going to throw money at the VA, and they are going to pass laws that make it easier to fire people. One allows those more than 40 miles away from a clinic or hospital to seek treatment at a private doctor or hospital. But none of that is going to “fix” the VA. It is time for an overhaul of the Veterans Administration. I am not talking about taking the agency away, nor about privatizing it. I don’t even think it needs to have everyone fired and restart over. But an overhaul is necessary.
There are a lot of problems that the VA faces. One is money. But, that isn’t the only problem. For example, in 2000 lawmakers passed the Veterans Claims Assistance Act. A well-intentioned bill to help veterans with claims.
The law required that the VA tell a veteran what to do to prove a claim, help the veteran obtain necessary records, and inform the veteran when the VA could not obtain the information it needed. The law required the VA to retrieve the veteran’s service medical records and provide exams when the VA did not have sufficient evidence to substantiate a claim.
But the law was ambiguous and left much open to interpretation, which had to be fought out in the courts. It wound up adding several additional layers of bureaucracy to an already clunky VA claims process without appropriating additional funds or human resources to manage the increased workload.
As a result, things didn’t get better, it only made it more complicated. There is a very good reason for the backlog. There are more veterans needing help than there are people to help them. Very few rural areas of the country have VA clinics or offices. That means vets have to make, oftentimes, arduous journeys just to get the help they need. Yes, they can often use the internet, but that doesn’t always help the situation and a face-to-face exam is necessary.
The quality of service at VA Hospitals and Clinics is excellent. Most veterans will tell you that. The problem is that there aren’t enough Hospitals and Clinics to properly treat all of the veterans who need treatment. Additionally, there are thousands upon thousands of job openings at the VA and its hospitals and clinics. They can’t fill all of the open positions they have. One reason is money. Though professional medical providers are paid well, they are not paid what they can get in the private sector.
The two wars that G.W. Bush laid on us also contributed to the backlog. Especially when you consider that early on, the department was publicly counting only about a third of the casualties stemming from the War on Terror. That was because the Department was only counting servicemen and women immediately targeted in the department’s wounded-in-action statistics. That accounting method left out those who were not targeted but were wounded nonetheless, such as troops injured when they were riding two trucks back from one that was hit by a roadside bomb, or those hurt in training or transportation.
The problems at the VA go back decades. At least to the Kennedy years. The VA has always been the ugly step-child of the country. We are keen to send our young men and women into harms way to “protect” our freedom. But, once they have protected that freedom, they are forgotten, even shied away from. If you want proof, look no further than the Wounded Warriors Project. This is a very good organization that is trying to help our vets. I commend them for their work. But, I ask, why are such organizations even necessary? Why isn’t the country taking on this responsibility? Because no one wants to fix the VA, they just want to use tragedies like we have recently seen as political points.
Since the so-called “War On Terrorism” started, everyone seems to be happy to “thank a vet” for their service. You see it everywhere. At sporting events. At concerts. Everywhere people are gathered there is the phrase to “thank a vet” or “in honor of our men and women in uniform”. Those are nice sentiments, but they are not what veterans need or even want. They need and want proper medical treatment and help!
If you want to truly thank a vet, demand from your Representative that veterans stop being treated like they don’t exist by the very government they served. Demand from your Representative that real, meaningful changes and fixes are made to the Veterans Administration so all veterans get the help they need.
We should not be headlines for political gain. We should not be invisible. We want to be respected for our service and treated so we can properly “heal” from the physical and mental wounds we have received. Make that happen, and you will really be thanking vets for their service.
If not, “thank you for your service” are just meaningless words. Sorry, but that’s the truth.