Well,Not Everyone Does

Well, not everyone does

It has been common wisdom that America loves its vets. Having ignored and maltreated veterans of the Vietnamese War, the entire country seemed to have decided that this time would be different.

That seems to be about as far as the country was willing to go. Lots of good will; no Congressional money or support; the entire VA hospital system left to fend for itself. As for the veterans, they were met at airports with flowers and kisses and then people piled back into their SUVs and disappeared.

The recent revelations from VA outposts in Phoenix and Montana and Arkansas surely came as no surprise. A few years ago, a Washington Post series about the Walter Reed hospital in D.C., which is not a VA hospital, alerted the nation to the realities of veterans’ care. Pulitzers were won, and then we went back to watching “American Idol.”

To call what is happening to General Erik Shinseki now, amid daily bulletins of failsafe planning and care flat-out failing, just reward is appalling and unfair. Even though our support for this man has not wavered, it’s been tough to stay positive in the light of hourly disclosures of more medical and scheduling shenanigans. Nor should it come as a surprise to us that members of Congress, Senators and Representatives alike, have begun jumping ship: if the public, as reported in the 24 hour news cycle, is horrified by treatment of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, what politician is going to stand firm and say, “Wait a minute! We don’t know enough yet to can this man.”

Congressional staffs are advising their bosses that deserting a sinking ship is the wiser course of action. To our surprise, John Boehner, House speaker, is not yet one of these rats. Speaking early and often and presenting a case for system-wide corruption – Boehner said yesterday – “I cannot believe that replacing one man will make the kind of changes necessary to solve this system-wide epidemic.”

He’s right, we believe. Shinseki has been, to date, straight-forward and honest to the point where he was disciplined by the Defense Department of the unlamented George W. Bush for calling it as he sees it. We believe he still has the vision and the determination to continue to do that.

But amid all the information about appointment times and schemes to make the VA seem more efficient than it is we have found some Americans who do not love veterans. And this, we feel, is only the tip of that proverbial ice-berg.

We read that various schemes had been set in motion around the country at many VA facilities that would make it seem as though recent Veterans, as well as earlier survivors of American foreign wars, were being seen as scheduled, were being attended to in a timely fashion diligently and well. Despite the shortage of doctors and nurses at VA hospitals, psychologists and therapists, someone somewhere in the administration concocted plans to falsify records, in fact keeping double sets of books, that indicated always the waiting time for appointments was lowering, the treatment times were expanding, the wait for initial interviews and decisions were taking place in an orderly and business-like fashion.

Then we discovered that this bogus reporting assisted staff members at VA hospitals in achieving pay raises and bonuses.

We are blowing our stack.

Presumably healthy workers administering to unhealthy veterans made a choice. “I’m getting mine and these other guys can wait til hell freezes over. Perhaps, if we’re lucky they’ll die while waiting for a real dose of medicine and attention that can actually help them. Meanwhile, we rise in the level of our pay, we get bonuses, and we persuade the country that all is right with the world.”

Hold it! Here is an entire class of workers whose sympathies are completely unengaged by the plights of our wounded warriors. They don’t give a damn that men and women who served in our uniforms, suffered grievous injuries, and were promised the best of rehabilitative care for having done so, should in any way be rewarded for their sacrifices. Forget rewarded – some of these injuries are so horrific that to even imagine a partial recovery is more than these workers can picture.

Without cataloguing the kinds of brain injuries, amputations, internal organ replacements that are needed, these VA staff members are focused clearly on only one thing: their pay grade and their bonuses if they can manage to fool most of the people most of the time.

In short, better me than them.

We need a solution here in order to be taken seriously, otherwise we’re only complaining that life is unfair.

That Shinseki has been torpedoed by his own troops is evident. Therefore we propose that all civilian and military bureaucrats at the scheduling and follow-up level be dismissed on masse. Yes, this may be unfair to many, but it is also a fine, nasty lesson for most. The veterans they were supposed to attend, care for, rehabilitate are just as important as they are, more so. They actually fought.

Give Shinseki a chance to refill entire ranks of VA administrators. This will take time, of course. But no more time than trying piece-meal to identify miscreants and punish them would. And, ideally, in a nation where “jobs” is still the key political word, this would benefit eager, determined job-seekers who – as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – have been given the run-around for too many years.


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