Cary and Robon
In 1969, at age 19, I deployed to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, as the newest member of the 483rd SPS K9 squadron. I was a patrol dog handler. There were many things we learned upon arriving in the country like “listen to your sergeant, keep your mouth shut and your dog was your best friend who would always have your back.” Two things I knew I didn’t want to happen:
- To be the “first one in my block” to “come home in a box” as Country Joe and the Fish sang in their hit song, “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag,” singing, “Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn / Next stop is Vietnam.”
- Or wind up with a disabling injury or wound that would force me to seek long term care in a VA hospital.
Every soldier, airman and marine knew treatment in the VA hospitals was terrible and that oftentimes they were where you went to die. If that sounds harsh, it’s meant to.
Flash forward to today and how the VA currently cares for and treats veterans. We see an underfunded VA system run by entrenched, self-serving government bureaucrats who falsify treatment records and do a poor job of providing care to an aging population of Vietnam and Korean veterans and to our current Afghanistan and Iraqi veterans who suffer from multiple effects (both medical and psychological) as a result of repeated deployments.
Add to that the burden of Agent Orange, and we have a broken VA that doesn’t deliver adequate care and is getting worse by the day (so says The Wall Street Journal). For example, the Financial Times reports that, in 2002, 46.5 million veterans made outpatient visits. By 2012, that number had risen to 83.6 million veterans.
And here is a clear example of how treatment has deteriorated: The Wall Street Journal reports that between 2010 and 2013 average wait times to see a caregiver had gone from 100 days to 375 days.
Reported in The Kansas City Star, President Obama acknowledges that it takes too long for veterans to get care but said that wasn’t a new development. He certainly got that part right. It’s not a new development. Add this to issues like medications being limited to generic drugs only and medical facilities that are often not up to minimum standards for treatment (like the Kansas City VA sited for unsanitary operating rooms with mouse droppings and roaches in them). The VA is the classic definition of failure.
So, while congressman and senators hold congressional hearings on topics like Benghazi and sexual assault reports on college campuses, they seem unable to enact reforms at the VA, and President Obama continues to say he trusts Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of the VA.
Meanwhile, the VA continues to be told to do more with less, caregivers struggle to treat an expanding veterans population with fewer resources and VA bureaucrats obfuscate, lie and play CYA to protect their federal jobs.
Like I said, nothing changes but the changes. We should all reflect on this when we watch those flyovers and tributes to veterans on Memorial Day. Actions speak louder than words. Now is the time for action at the VA.
America’s Healthcare Advocate