This weekend, amidst the barbeques, mini vacations and sales at our favorite stores, we must not forget there is a purpose for this reflective time. Three years after the Civil War, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of those who selflessly sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom. They are the courageous men and women we must honor on Memorial Day.
Sadly, this Memorial Day we must also remember the lives of a countless number of veterans who did not lose their lives on the battlefield but were the victims of bureaucratic homicide at the hands of the Veterans Administration (VA).
Those unfamiliar with the VA scandal undoubtedly still heard of the hullabaloo of political leaders and bureaucrats deflecting blame for the deaths of American veterans through a tragic combination of administrative incompetence, medical malpractice and disgraceful indifference.
To summarize, a courageous whistle blower within the Arizona VA system revealed that government officials falsified information to hide delays about how long veterans were waiting to receive care at VA hospitals, which resulted in three proven deaths. The initial revelation subsequently exposed that VA hospitals have been using contaminated kidney-dialysis machines, permitted chronic emergency room overcrowding, and a total failure to enact any measures of accountability.
The reality is that everyone shares blame. There is one group that is hardly surprised by this scandal: the veterans who rely on the VA. Their justifiable cynicism of the system runs deep and they know that the blame for the current scandal and the solutions to fix it are bipartisan.
President Obama is the Commander in Chief and is no less responsible for the current VA than President Bush was for FEMA during Hurricane Katrina. Prior to this scandal, Obama had not met with this VA secretary for over two years. Twenty-five years ago the head of the VA was made a cabinet level position to ensure the president would be directly informed about veteran issues. However, the concept only works if the president is paying attention. President Obama wasn’t.
Congress is also culpable. Every election season politicians drape their campaigns with veteran endorsements while heaping platitudes about the debt we owe them. Yet few have moved beyond lip service to substantively improve veteran care.
Today, even common sense solutions fall victim to partisan gridlock. In the place of reform is the partisan blame game Americans have become angrily accustomed. Everyone supports having a competent VA and yet the unremitting partisanship that has infected our politics has paralyzed action and bears responsibility for the current tragedy.
Lastly, voters are also responsible and Granite Staters bear a unique culpability. Most times we use our “First in the Nation” primary role to properly vet candidates running for president. However, how many of us have grilled them about a plan to improve care for our veterans?
New Hampshire is home to approximately 125,000 veterans but we are one of only two states without a full time VA or Tricare service hospital. While some of New Hampshire’s leaders in Washington have attempted to address this they haven’t delivered results. Veteran care in New Hampshire is quite good but it could be better.
Enough of the blame, what is the solution? There are no quick fixes but fortunately there is legislation currently before Congress that begins the journey to reform. House Resolution 4031, the VA Management Accountability Act is a good first-step in achieving reform. It will allow the VA secretary to remove negligent VA administrators. Unbelievably the secretary does not currently have that authority. Being able to swiftly act and implement accountability will start to eliminate some of the delays, low-quality of care, and wasteful practices that are pervasive in the current VA.
While this important legislation passed the House, it is being blocked in the Senate because of partisan gamesmanship. This Memorial Day, let us honor the sacrifice of our veterans by taking a moment to improve the care of our current veterans by calling Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and respectfully encouraging them to bring HR 4031 for a vote and getting it to President Obama’s desk.Enough lip service, the time to act is now.