Sunday, May 25, 2014

Our Continuing National Dishonor

"The Congress Shall Have Power To....Declare War....Raise and Support Armies....Provide and Maintain a Navy....make Rules for the Government of land and naval provide for the calling for of the provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States of America..."

--United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8

Notice the recurring theme here?  Raise and Support; Provide for.  Congress has the sole power to send America's citizen soldiers into conflict.  In granting itself that authority, it also obligated itself to see to the needs of those soldiers in return for their service.  Largely, and repeatedly, it has failed it's obligations under the Constitution.  The American soldier is underpaid and unappreciated by many whose decisions obligate them to undertake life-threatening risks for sometimes vague and questionable objectives.

As I'm sure you've seen and heard, there is (another) scandal at the VA concerning the medical treatment of our wounded veterans.  At first dismissed as a problem with one local VA healthcare facility, the problem has grown to include dozens of facilities all across the country, with whistle blowers recounting stories of abuse, sub-par care, non-sterile facilities, and inordinately long wait times.  Unfortunately, and to our national disgrace, these stories aren't new.  Word of the poor treatment many of our bravest receive at their exclusive government-run healthcare program has been out there literally for decades.  What's new, and even more despicable (if possible), are the new claims that, in order to make themselves look good and win bonus pay veterans needing the most care and those with chronic illnesses were put on separate, secret waiting lists.  The purpose of such lists was to enable the facility in question promulgate the illusion that they were seeing service members in a timely manner.  To be specific, law requires that a veteran seeking care be seen within 14 days.  In reality, the wait times often extended to months, and in some cases, even more than a year!

To date, it has been claimed that more than 40 American soldiers, men wounded in combat fighting for their country, have DIED waiting for an appointment with a doctor or specialist.

Contrast this with how those on welfare and even convicted felons are treated.  Law requires that inmates be given medical attention within 24 hours of any injury or complaint.  Welfare recipients and those on medicaid can go to any emergency room and be seen 24/7/365.

Where is the justice in that?

President Barack Obama has declared that he is "madder than hell" at these revelations and has demanded that an investigation quickly be conducted to determine the truth of these allegations.  When pressed by news reporters to answer questions about how much the administration and it's department heads have been aware of the issue, he demurs, saying he only recently became aware of this situation.

Really?  He only just now has become aware of big problems at the VA?  Isn't it odd? As a Senator, Obama served on a committee dealing with veterans and their healthcare issues.  He also made the treatment of our veterans a major theme of his initial campaign for President back in 2008.  In many speeches, he declared that he would reform the institutions that serve our disabled and wounded veterans, increase funding, shorten wait times, and improve care for those who receive injury while serving their country.  How has he done?  Let's see:

In 2009, there were about 423,000 claims at the VA, with 150,000 pending for more than four months (the "official" wait time it takes a claim to be considered "backlogged").  By 2012, claims had exploded to more than 883,000--and 586,540 of those sat on the VA's backlog list.  This, despite a promise by the President to reduce wait times to a statutory goal of no longer than 14 days and an increase in the VA's budget from just under $100B in 2009 to $154B in 2012.  Don't forget, this doesn't--and can't--account for the discrepancy  between the "official" wait times reported by the VA and the actual wait times recorded on their second, secret set of books.  Problems with wait times at the VA were reported during the middle of the second Bush term and an attempt was made to address them at that time, with an IG's investigation and recommendation of policy changes to deal with the situation and prevent it from continuing or getting worse.  In spite of those efforts, nothing really improved for veterans seeking care.  In fact, the Bush administration informed the incoming Obama transition team of the problem, warning them that the reports of wait times coming from the VA weren't to be relied upon.

To be fair, while the problems at the VA have exploded under the ineptness of the current Obama administration, the problems with the VA, in fact, with America's treatment of it's veterans overall, go way back.

In 1999, the average wait time for claims processing for veterans (including claims for disability declarations) was 166 days.  By 2002, the middle of the first George W. Bush administration, it took the VA an average of 224 days to complete claims.  In 2013, it was up to 923 days, an increase of 37% from 2012!  Don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that our veterans have to wait up to three years before being treated.  These wait times are an aggregate of all veteran's services, including disability claims and appeals.  It does, however, give a clear indication of which direction we're headed in.  In spite of the Obama-signed legislation directing the VA to see patients withing 14 days (the "official" wait time) waits of several weeks or months are routine and waits of more than a year not uncommon.

As I said earlier, such poor treatment of our veterans isn't anything new.  During World War II, many combat veterans returning with psychiatric disorders (now called PTSD) were lobotomized.  The U.S. government lobotomized at least 2000--like hundreds more--soldiers during and after WWII.  According to memos recently unearthed by the Wall Street Journal, the VA, besieged by psychologically damaged troops returning from the battlefields of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific, performed the brain-altering operation on former servicemen it diagnosed as depressives, psychotics, and schizophrenics (and, occasionally, on people identified as homosexuals). 

During the Civil War, soldiers on the Union side were induced to sign up by the offering of "bounties".  Essentially, promises of grants of property (land) in return for agreeing to join the fight.  Once they signed up, they were paid a wage commensurate with their rank.  Soldiers were supposed to be paid every two months in the field, but were lucky to get their pay in four month intervals.  Authentic instances have been uncovered where they went as long as six and eight months.  Pay in the Confederate Army was even slower and less regular.

We can take this back even further, to the Revolutionary War itself.  In the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783.  George Washington's soldiers threatened to wipe out the entire Continental Congress over the issue of their not being paid for their service in winning the war with the British.  General (and eventual first President) Washington acted swiftly to prevent such an atrocity.  On June 17, 1783 members of the army sent a letter to Congress demanding they be paid for their services.  Congress ignored them.  On the morning of June 20th, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia found themselves surrounded by as many as 400 soldiers demanding payment, blocking the doors and refusing to allow delegates to leave.  Alexander Hamilton persuaded the soldiers to allow the delegates to leave, promising to meet later to address their concerns.  Instead of addressing those concerns, however, a secret group of delegates, headed by Hamilton himself, drafted a petition to the State of Pennsylvania demanding that they act to protect Congress from the soldiers, threatening that, if the state refused to act, they would move the capital elsewhere.

We can see by these examples that the government of the United States hasn't ever really held all that closely to it's obligation to Support and Provide for those whom it chooses to send into harms way.  This needs to change.  We treat convicted criminals better than we do our heroes!  We actually have families of active-duty soldiers serving in war zones subsisting on welfare and food stamps!  This is no way to repay these men and women for their great, and in many cases, ultimate sacrifices.  Perhaps, finally, on this Memorial Day we can all collectively wake up and begin to honestly respect and honor those who stand between our peaceful lives and the chaos and violence of the rest of the world.

If we don't, we have no right to cast blame on government and the VA alone.  It will (continue to) be our national disgrace.

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