SAN JOSE, May 16, 2014 — As the nation approaches Armed Forces Day today, many Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the continuing scandal regarding unpaid and delinquent veterans’ benefits that does little to practically demonstrate honor for those who wore the uniform.
In April, the deaths of about 23 veterans were linked to the delays in receiving cancer screenings at hospitals in recent years. This past Thursday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee called Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, Eric Shinseki, to testify in regard to allegations that as many as 40 veterans died waiting for medical care in Phoenix, Arizona.
As a candidate, Obama easily identified the problem at the “broken VA bureaucracy” and vowed during the 2008 Presidential campaign to reduce VA claim decisions to an average of 125 days by the end of 2015.
When Obama assumed the presidency, approximately 390,000 outstanding claims were carried forward from the Bush Administration. VA statistics at the end of the fiscal year in 2012 revealed that the outstanding claims were at 883,949 remaining to be processed.
This represents more than double an increase in the outstanding claims during President Obama’s first term.
Less than three months after he was inaugurated, President Obama made a big show of commitment to the veterans when he appeared with then Secretary of Defense Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki to announce his grand plan to improve the VA.
Among other words, President Obama stated:
“For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren’t nearly enough. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It is a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end.”
“But we know that for too long, we have fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need. Too many veterans don’t receive the support that they have earned.
“Too many who once wore our nation’s uniform now sleep in our nation’s streets.
“Currently, there is no comprehensive system in place that allows for a streamlined transition of health records between DOD and the VA. And that results in extraordinary hardship for a [sic] awful lot of veterans, who end up finding their records lost, unable to get their benefits processed in a timely fashion.
“I can’t tell you how many stories that I heard during the course of the last several years, first as a United States senator and then as a candidate, about veterans who were finding it almost impossible to get the benefits that they had earned despite the fact that their disabilities or their needs were evident for all to see.”
Ironically, those words may now haunt Obama because under his watch so many hundreds of thousands of decent patriots are suffering; some now are even dying before they have ever seen their benefits checks. Granted, the backlog has been business as usual for quite some time.
However, the backlog had been significantly reduced by around 100,000 claims under President Bush before left office despite the archaic paper-based system and American troops fighting overseas in the War on Terror since the attacks on 9/11. Yet, even after the troop withdrawal in Iraq and a bigger budget with an increase in VA staff, the outstanding veterans’ claims reached a historically high level in 2012.
Those who volunteered to serve their country and the Free World during this time of global turmoil deserve the nation’s gratitude. Yet, when these patriots who served this nation to fight against global terrorism need the government’s support, they have become trapped in a system bogged down by bureaucratic incompetence.
These Americans and their families depend on such benefit payments for basic needs, and they face very real economic problems each day they do not receive their benefits. Unfortunately, the backlog of benefits has reduced these patriots to mere statistics in this ongoing debacle. Now people are dying as a result of this inept process of caring for our wounded veterans.
Mere words do not solve such very real problems. Secretary Shinseki told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that he was “mad as hell” over the allegations. He also has placed two top officials at the Phoenix V.A. hospital on leave. He vowed to take swift action if the department’s inspector general reveals that such damaging allegations are found true, but he will not step down unless he is fired by the president.
Of course, Phoenix officials insist that the 40 deaths have not been conclusively connected to the ongoing backlog. Sadly, similar allegations have been leveled regarding V.A. facilities in Colorado and in Texas. Now, there are allegations that documents have concealed the real circumstances of the deaths. There seems to be an issue of two contradictory sets of VA records.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee could issue subpoenas for such documents and seek testimonies from those involved in the Phoenix tragedy. Yet, it seems as if most leaders Washington, D.C. have not formulated the courage to cry out about such an outrageous scandal.
Ironically, while Obama seemingly has little trouble firing top generals, he seems to be quite reluctant to fire his cabinet members despite one scandal after another tarnishing his administration.
For example, if a general in the field were responsible for the senseless deaths of 40 under his command, Obama would probably have no trouble dismissing him. This reveals a great deal about Obama – not much about the nature of the scandals.
In contrast to this current fiasco, one should consider the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal involving a series of cases of neglect and complaints about deplorable and unsanitary conditions associated with Building 18 of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007. During that time, a series of Washington Post articles described Building 18 as cockroach and rat infested, with black mold and dirty carpets, and reported that some recovering soldiers complained of no heat or water in the barracks-like building.
At the time, although the Army claimed to be surprised, as early as 1999 such problems associated with this building had been identified to senior officers, including Major General Kevin C. Kiley, who actually toured the facility, and then denied funding for any improvements.
Amazingly, this shook up the U.S. Army in 2007. Within less than a week after the Post article was published, the Secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey, decided to fire the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Commander, Major General George Weightman.
The Secretary of Defense at the time, Robert Gates, went to Walter Reed and demanded that those responsible would be “held accountable” and supported Harvey’s decision. At that time, Gates stated:
The care and welfare of our wounded men and women in uniform demand the highest standard of excellence and commitment that we can muster as a government. When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command.”
The Army claimed it had relieved Maj. Gen. Weightman of command because leaders had “lost trust and confidence” in Weightman’s leadership abilities “to address needed solutions for soldier outpatient care.” After the dismissal, coming full circle, Secretary Harvey promoted Army Surgeon General, Major General Kevin C. Kiley, as interim commander.
This was the same officer who could have handled the entire sordid issue entirely differently years earlier. However, Gates forced Secretary Harvey to resign on March 2nd as he felt Harvey was moving too slow. Kiley retired on March 12th after he had been asked to resign. The scandal at Walter Reed ultimately led to quite a wide ranging analysis of the veteran’s healthcare system, as well as the V.A. healthcare system overall.
Ironically, the 2007 scandal makes the current scandal swirling around the V.A. look like a major travesty of justice, and reveals not only how the tragedy of dying American veterans seems to be considered less important than the lack of sanitary conditions at Walter Reed. However, it also reveals the real hypocrisy of the major media outlets in refusing to touch the delicate topics that may embarrass the Obama White House.
In comparing these two serious issues, one should be able to gain a sense of perspective on the value the current administration places upon the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Has the Obama Administration been caught showing its true colors with regard to these men and women who have sacrificed their well-being and time and energy in serving their country?