America's veterans deserve better than they're receiving right now.
With Memorial Day recently observed, more and more horror stories are emerging from a Veterans Administration that appears to have rotted to the core. A massive Washington, D.C.-based federal bureaucracy with an enormous budget and more than 340,000 employees charged with helping America's heroes when they take off their uniforms for the last time has failed its mission.
In Phoenix, Dr. Samuel Foote, a former VA doctor turned whistleblower says there are some 13,000 veterans without a primary care doctor. These veterans often wait months for an appointment - Dr. Foote revealed that some 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments in the Phoenix VA clinic. In Florida, an internal criminal investigator said drugs would go missing from the VA pharmacy. He added, "I was instructed that I was to stop conducting investigations pertaining to controlled substance discrepancies." In Fort Collins, Colorado, a whistleblower there says that she was ordered to falsify records to indicate that veterans were receiving prompt treatment. More disturbing stories of fake waiting lists seem to emerge daily.
This scandal is bigger than the current VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. And, while the Obama Administration failed to do anything despite the President's transition team being advised in 2008 of major problems at the VA, the rot even goes beyond President Obama. The Congressional Committees charged with overseeing the VA receive small budgets, junior membership, and very little media attention. For too long those that served and defended have been afterthoughts in Washington - ironic given that some of America's bravest lay under the grass and dirt of Arlington National Cemetery, less than two miles away.
President Obama's Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in a recent interview with CBS' Face the Nation that President Obama was quote, "madder than hell" over the delays at VA hospitals throughout the country. Good. He should be. We all should be. This should not be a partisan issue. This is an American problem that we need to fix.
As a veteran of over 26 years, I've become increasingly concerned with the deepening divide between our military and civilian populations. The following characterization and quote comes from a Washington Post interview that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen gave upon his retirement in 2011.
What troubles Mullen is that this magnificent professional force (America's military) has become a separate tribe in America, too little connected to the rest of the country: "They don't know the depth and the breadth of what we have been through, the numbers of deployments, the stress on the force, the suicide issues, the extraordinary performance."
The men and women who've chosen to serve America are preserving our freedoms in near anonymity, often in dangerous shadows on the other side of the world. It's not until movies like 'Lone Survivor' are made do the American people get a glimpse of the heroism and sacrifice of our troops - volunteer troops. But in today's culture, we have a tendency to move on to the next thing on our iPads, Washington moves on to its next partisan fight, the media moves on to a more sensational story, all while our troops protect our freedoms at the edges of civilization, and our veterans quietly suffer indignities at the hands of a federal agency that has grown too large, too cold, and unaccountable. This must change.
This Memorial Day we should pledge to fix this. We owe it to our fallen, we owe it to those who made it back home, and we owe it to those future heroes who will serve that America will keep our promises to our veterans. From Lexington and Concord to Gettysburg; from Normandy to Korea, and from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. We owe it to them.
Americans in 2014 enjoy the highest quality of life that mankind has ever seen. It's been achieved through the hard work and innovation of the American people, and preserved by those relatively few Americans who have been willing to lay down their lives in service to their nation - our nation.
It's time to show our veterans how thankful we are for their service. It's time to fundamentally reform the VA.
Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, represents the 6th Congressional District.