Our Veterans. We ask them to put on the uniform. We ask them to take up arms. And we ask them to protect us–and sacrifice their time, their safety and in so many cases, their lives–to keep us safe.
Is it too much for them to expect decent medical treatment from the Veterans’ Administration? And to be fair, many do and have for years. But lately, more and more stories are surfacing that should be alarming to every American. Stories of mismanagement, of ridiculously long wait times for treatment, and of veterans dying before they are able to get that treatment.
Answers are now being demanded in Washington, as to the why, who and what is responsible for so many of our warriors falling through the cracks. Just as troubling are increasingly widespread reports of cover-ups–and a determined and seemingly institutional attempt to hide and masks the abuses.
And now there are nationwide reports of mismanaging administrators simply being reassigned, and of being given bonuses and promotions once the abuses of power came to light.
President Barack Obama insists he’s ‘mad as hell’. His appointee to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Ret. Gen. Eric Shinseki insists he’s ‘mad as hell’ (and yet, as the time of this writing, remains on the job). The President insists he first heard about this travesty when he read it in the newspapers. What a wonderful facility in a leader! To be on the job–and yet removed from the job. To be in Washington, D.C.–and yet not a part of it–not even a smidgeon. To have the most open and ethical administration in American history–and yet have no idea what they’re doing.
To all those who favor big government solutions over private industry solutions … and who believe a bloated federal bureaucracy–non-competitive, unaccountable, intransigent, corrupted–is the way to attend to the needs of our aging and ailing veterans… then I have no words that would make any sense to you.
And to those who are eagerly awaiting the ‘Affordable’ Care Act to kick in fully … I say this–If you like the way the VA is working … you’re gonna love ObamaCare!
On the approach to Memorial Day, my friend and patriot, award-winning film and TV star, Ken Wahl, (Wise Guy, The Wanderers) sat down with me, Gary Graham (Google me, I’ll wait …) to talk about one of his favorite subjects–our Veterans.
And in this case, the now widely-reported neglect and abuse of same by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Gary Graham: So, the V.A. Reports of abuses…neglect…cover-ups. Your thoughts?
Ken Wahl: It’s heartbreaking. Those 40 guys who died … put on secret waiting lists to make it look good to the Administration that they were being taken care of … and they weren’t … It’s just terrible.
GG: Emerging stories of under-reporting of veterans’ suicide in Spokane, WA. In Pittsburgh I see a report of 22 vets becoming seriously ill and 6 died of Legionaire’s Disease in 2012. Delayed routine cancer screenings in Columbia, S. Carolina, on and on … This is government bureaucracy at its worst.
KW: I agree. And when you consider the budget … the Veterans Administration is the second-highest budgeted government program, second only to the Department of Defense. I couldn’t believe it when I learned this! I knew [V.A. the budget] was big, but I didn’t know it was that big. And they just keep throwing money at it.
GG: Throw money at it. It’s Bureaucracy.
KW: And this administration loves bureaucracy. To be fair, Obama did throw some more money at this. I will give one iota of credit, he at least did something.
GG: Isn’t that like giving a medal for ‘trying hard?’
KW: Clearly more money isn’t the answer. We’ve got to call for a complete overhaul of the V.A. Shinseki, the guy who runs it, was apparently a fine officer when he served, but he is completely over his head.
GG: And who holds their feet to the fire? Other bureaucrats?
KW: In essence they’re answerable only to themselves. They’re only answerable to another section of the bureaucracy.
GG: And they don’t have to compete with any other faction that comes along and says, ‘You know, we could do this better, cheaper, faster, smoother.’ It seems we have this recurring amnesia. We keep forgetting what America is. America is about free-market competition in pursuit of excellence. One company coming in and saying, ‘I can do better than that and here’s how’…and another company stepping up and doing it cheaper and faster, with higher quality.
KW: And more efficient. These guys trying to make a broken system more efficient. “Government efficiency”… now there’s an oxymoron!
GG: Private solutions applied to the V.A. is the only hope of unraveling the mess. But we’re going the other direction, towards more bureaucracy, not less … and now with ObamaCare!
KW: No kidding. The V.A. [troubles] is a precursor to ObamaCare–and what’s headed our way. And when you get to the root of it–it’s not their money, it’s our money they’re using. And I don’t mean it’s just about money, but that’s a big part of it. But in the private sector, you make a bid and you say, ‘I can do it cheaper and better and more efficiently than that guy can do it’ so everybody wins that way, and that’s why the free market works. You’re risking your own sweat, your own money and it’s a limited budget. But when you have virtually an unlimited budget–sure Obama throws them some more money, why not–let’s just whip up some more at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving!
GG: Right–and let’s fly first-class four times a year for conferences at 5-star hotels in Hawaii and talk about it.
KW: It’s disgusting. And in the meantime, our heroes are suffering and dying.
GG: And it’s coming up on Memorial Day. So, Ken, what should be done about the V.A.?
KW: I think that we gotta quit dickin’ around and they gotta totally clean house.
GG: Just change the cast of characters or change the system?
KW: Well…to be idealistic, change the system. But to be realistic, change the cast of characters, at least to start with. Because to making sweeping changes in the system is not gonna happen during the next two and a half years of Obama’s term. We have to be realistic. But we have to make Americans aware of these horrendous acts and that our heroes are being treated this poorly.
GG: And what happened to the whole ‘open and ethical’ thing? How about opening the books to the public?
KW: Yeah, how about being as ‘transparent’ as you said you were going to be, Mr. President?
GG: Last shout-out to the troops?
KW: What can I say-I love you guys. The respect, admiration … and love I have for you for defending our freedom..it just grows everyday–especially for what you have to go through every day. I wish I had more power personally to make a change for your guys. It breaks my heart … that with all the sacrifices they’ve already made for us…that they have to put up with this [V.A. mess]. And recently, I did a radio interview…which lead to me working with this general … the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen’l John Michel. He and I are committed to hooking up wounded vets with rescue animals. It’s amazing … when I had my accident … I guess I had a mild bout of Post Traumatic Shock myself … then it became chronic … a deep, deep depression … and I just went into a downward spiral for seven years. I was in the deepest funk … it took me that long to get out of it … and animals were very instrumental in helping me do that. There was a 4-month period there were I literally did not get out of bed. I wasn’t functioning … my heart was beating and I was respirating, but that’s about it. It was horrible … Because when you’re going on in life and you’re doing normal things … and then all of a sudden–you’re life is completely different in a split second …it’s very difficult to try to come to terms with that. Not to compare myself with what our troops went through, I mean, nobody was shooting at me, I didn’t have to worry about going over an IED … but after my [motorcycle] accident [I suffered a broken neck] … I do know what it’s like to feel worthless; when you can’t do anything anymore and you have to depend on other people to do everything for you…and it’s a horrible feeling. So one thing I realized… that with the animals … I was able to help take care of the animal. And eventually … we were kind of taking care of each other. And little by little … I was able to get out of my own head. That’s the first step of getting healed. And rescue animals are the best … when you save them … they know. And they are so grateful … and this bond that happens between human and animal … it’s just incredible. It’s not a panacea, it’s not gonna cure everything … but it helps.
GG: Thanks, Ken. I join you in a very heartfelt THANK YOU to all our veterans on this Memorial Day.