Remembering Veterans Three Days A Year

There is a scandal at the Veterans Administration and partisan Republicans are salivating at the chance to attribute a new atrocity to our Kenyan, socialist, commander in chief.

But scandals at the VA are endemic and perpetual. Obama ran on the promise to clean up the VA mess of George W. Bush. He might as well have promised to fix the scandalous treatment of Vets under Hoover, FDR, Reagan or Clinton. It is a bipartisan national shame that is never adequately addressed.

In fact, many veterans facilities are given high marks by the veterans who use them, but the demand for services far exceeds the ability of the system to meet it. This leads to long waits. That in turn leads to complaints to harried bureaucrats who have little power to fix the problems.

Some apparently took the sleazy way out. They falsified records to make it seem the problem was not as bad as the reality. That’s bad, but it’s not the sort of behavior confined to government drones. Corporate life is just as rife with cooked book,s false promises, cover-ups, missed deadlines, blind eyes.

At least in the private sector there’s a chance that someone in the organization will have the power to fix a problem and take the initiative to do so. But often there is no hope for a similar outcome in government.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a large part of the VA problem is a huge influx of demand due to ten years of ceaseless war in which many more combatants (with injuries that once would have killed them) were miraculously kept alive. But now they need ongoing help. Add to that the aging of the veterans of the Vietnam era — millions of them — with all the problems aging brings on top of service related ills.

This is not mere supposition. The Financial Times reports that in 2002 46.5 million visits were made by Vets to outpatient facilities. By 2012, it was 83.6 million. The aftermath of war is hell.

Now let’s suppose the solution is to ramp up the VA to cope with this increased demand. Now who would have the power to do that? Gen. Shinseki? No. The President? No. Both would have to go hat in hand to the people able to appropriate the money needed to keep the promises made when men and women raised their hand, took the oath, put on the uniform, went where they were sent and did the dirty, dangerous, terrifying jobs they were given.

Oh, those people. Congress. The same people now sooo upset about the problems at the VA. And why have they underfunded it and failed to conduct oversight which is their job? Because veterans are good to pose next to when campaigning and good to wax patriotic about on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day, but doing right by them the other 362 days a year brings in no campaign contributions — unlike catering to the demands of big busineess, big labor, Wall Street and Hollywood fat cats.

Even worse, what the VA needs is not a tax loophole or freeway bypass. It needs more resources and that would require more tax dollars. You, like your elected representatives, have probably just recoiled as if confronted with a venomous snake. Do voters like veterans. Yes, in theory. Enough to tell their representative to raise their taxes to pay for the needs of veterans? Dream on.

Lincoln in his stirring Second Inaugural Address, said it was the duty of a country after a war to “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” But such idealism runs smack dab into reality when it gets to Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee once presided over by the wily Sen. Russell Long who famously noted the public’s attitude to taxation was “Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that follow behind the tree.”

If we are concerned about Vets and their scandalous treatment, we have to acknowledge that the fault is not solely in our congressional stars, nor even the dim lights of the backbenchers, but in ourselves.

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