Wednesday, May 28, 2014

     There is little doubt that the Veterans Affairs Administration may be at a low point of effectiveness and public confidence.  The lack of confidence is justified by huge backlogs and recent allegations of manipulation of scheduling procedures to mask long waits for appointments.  Some of these long waits may have lead to veterans dying while waiting for medical services to which they were entitled.  Incompetence, failure, and internal corruption and cover up create more than enough blame to go around.  Many are calling for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the Director of the VA.
Politics, poor performance, and public opinion may prevail in securing his resignation.
     Firing Shinseki may seem like a reasonable and justified action, but...then what?  Who has the requisite management skills to right the ship and credibility with Congress, the White House, and, most important, veterans and their families?  And, if they met these criteria would they want the job?  I can suggest a prime candidate and two backup candidates.  The prime candidate is Gen. Colin Powell and the backups are former senators Bob Kerry and Jim Webb.  The question is whether any of them would choose to spend the next thirty months of their lives serving their country and their fellow veterans fighting the bureaucratic battle inside the VA.

Friday, May 23, 2014

No Surprise
     The current scandals at the Veterans Administration are alarming and embarrassing, but, unfortunately, not surprising.  We have gone through these past thirteen years of war with less than one percent of our nation's citizens having "skin in the game" and little real inquiry as to why we went to war in the first place and stayed for so long.  Now we are beginning to recognize the cost of such apathy.
     We have a history of treating veterans poorly as most believe the war is over when the last shot is fired or we withdraw.  For veterans a new phase of the war is just beginning.  In 1932 more than 17,000 veterans petitioning for early payment of their promised bonuses from their service in WWI were ejected forcibly from their nation's capital and their possessions burned; two were killed by members of the very Army in which they served.  The Viet Nam war ended in 1975 and from 1977 to 1993 more than 39,000 Agent Orange based claims were filed with the VA and 486 were granted.  Agent Orange causes cancer, and nerve, digestive, respiratory, and skin disorders among service members exposed to the toxic chemical defoliant employed by the US in Viet Nam.  Congress did not respond to this breach of trust with veterans until 1991 when it declared that certain conditions were "presumptive" to Agent Orange.  Finally, after the first Gulf War in 1991 approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 who served in the war were victims of Gulf War Syndrome.  Symptoms of the "syndrome" were fatigue, muscle pain, congestive problems, and skin rashes.  The VA consistently challenged the existence of the service relation and denied claims by veterans of that war.  Seventeen years after the war ended Congress mandated a study and claims were accepted.  For some it was too late.
     Our history of treating veterans poorly is well established and continues today.  It is part of a widening estrangement of citizens from their military driven by the fact that no American citizen is obligated to secure the freedoms, liberties, and security they have come to claim as entitlements.