“Leave no man behind” and “we will never forget your sacrifices” are phrases our commander in chief tosses around as he trumpets his supposed love for the armed forces on a …
“Leave no man behind” and “we will never forget your sacrifices” are phrases our commander in chief tosses around as he trumpets his supposed love for the armed forces on a daily basis. But his actions speak louder than his words and tell a far different story, according to a report published last week by the Government Accountability Office. That report says that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been rendered useless and ineffective due to political cronyism, bureaucratic ineptitude and lack of effective leadership.
The most glaring statistic offered was that, on average, 20 veterans a day are committing suicide. That number has grown from twice the general population rate two years ago to its present level which is 45 suicides per every 100,000 of the population, or three times the national average. Would that strike you as a logical trend if those veterans were being cared about and supported by an effective VA? It suggests to me that our government, in the form of the VA, is leaving all of those brave men and women behind and on their own now that their usefulness is over. In the past two years, the suicide prevention office of the VA has spent only $57,000 of its $6.2 million budget and social media outreach programs are practically nonexistent when compared to prior administrations.
Three VA head administrators have come and gone over the past two years and they have had much in common. They were all political appointees with no expertise or professional experience in running such a vast personal care organization, which includes a nationwide mental health and health-care agency that serves 9 million veterans with 200,000 employees in 1,240 facilities in 50 states.
The escalation of the veteran suicide rate is not the VA’s only pressing problem. You are all familiar with the reports of the VA’s failures in the past and the promises that were made to remedy the problems. This new report reveals that the fixes the VA has tried have all been eyewash and little else. It found that employees, at the behest of their administrators, have falsified appointment records and wait times in at least 64 facilities in 19 states. The report also suggests that the problem has been compounded by the hiring freezes imposed by Washington. At present, the VA has 20,000 job vacancies for doctors, nurses, mental health therapists and miscellaneous clinical staff unfilled because of the payroll pressures brought about by funding cuts.
That it? Not hardly! The report estimates that as many as 340,000 veterans have been struggling with incorrect benefit payments or payments up to 30 days late. Imagine your problem if your tuition payment is a month late or is in an incorrect amount. How long will your school tolerate that before they force you out? Perhaps they decide to try and carry you until a resolution is reached but can’t reach you because your housing allotment check is missing or in the incorrect amount and your landlord has evicted you. Now you are homeless and have no forwarding address. The VA has been aware of this problem since last April and still has no remedy.
No matter what branch of the service or in what capacity these brave men and women have served, they have all made great personal sacrifices for you and this nation. They deserve to have all the promises kept that were made to them by their government when they signed up. The VA can be fixed but it will require professional leadership that actually cares about the outcome, not political hacks collecting election paybacks.
Robert Barry lives in and writes from Questa, New Mexico.
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