For the fifteen to twenty years anyone who has followed veterans affairs issues, particularly with regard to medical care would not surprised by the recent scandal involving the American VA. In the early 90’s funding going into the VA system shrank. WWII vets were becoming fewer and the VA was deemed to be a place to help balance the budget or free funds for Congress’s pet projects. Yes, the was an aging pool of Korean and Vietnam vets that as they aged would need more support, but they were still years away from needing more intensive support and by when they did need such support the rapidly declining pool of WWII would soon be minimal.
Hence, over the 90s instead of facilities being updated, they were allowed to age, and not always gracefully either. In the mid to late 90s facilities were closing resulting in vets having travel two to three hours further to VA hospitals for treatment and care. Some vets in the areas of the country by 2000 were traveling a half a day or more to reach their nearest VA hospital. The overall strength of the medical staff not only decreased because of the closures of hospitals but also from decreases in medical staff at existing hospitals with aging and sometimes equipment that was not current.
The dedicated medical staff worked hard to care for those who came under their care in the same or greater numbers while having less and less resources to manage their care. And when this country went to war and its youth came home wounded in body and spirit, increasing the annual budget was not a priority of either Congress or the White House. In the 2000s to the present there were some budgetary increases, but they were not nearly enough to make up for the cuts, to modernize facilities, to open new facilities and clinics, to increase staff. The VA continued to serve more and more with inadequate resources.
With fewer and fewer resources, and with more demand, what is the logical result? What happens at a remote busy gas station and half the pumps are turned off? Lines and with longer wait times. And yet we are shocked by longer wait times at underfunded, underequipped and understaffed hospitals?
Earlier this year Congress refused to take up and pass a bill that would have given the VA an extra $2.1 million a year for the next ten years. This has been going on for decades. Congress by its action continued then and still does underfund the VA. Yet many of those who have underfunded the VA have been the first to cry out in scorn at the VA and the President for breaking faith with our veterans as if Congress and they themselves by their votes are blameless. Political commentators cry out in alarm, but the story has been there for decades and they did not cry.
Who has broken faith with our vets? It is not just this President with our veterans! It is the prior President too! It is not just past Congresses who bear a good part of the blame, but the current one as well. And on a personal level, personal blame goes to each Congress member and Senator who has by their deliberate votes and willfully turned a blind eye to VA underfunding. Add to the mix the political commentators, politicians for their false horror, who push the story for political attack purposes.
Each member of Congress who is pointing fingers elsewhere, who is not accepting a portion of the blame and not saying, “I’m going to join others to do something about the underfunding” are not only perpetuating the problem, they are at the heart of the problem. They are breaking faith with our vets. Shame on them!
The story has been there for years. From time to time over the last decade there have been stories about the VA’s underfunding and growing wait times. Often this is not a new story has been marginalized and yawned at. Now it has finally has gained traction. And finally, I too am part of the problem for not writing my Congressman and Senators more often about the VA’s underfunding.
Dismissals are not the answer. The answer is simple, give the VA the resources that they need to do the job that they are not only charged to do, but want to do.
The citizens of the United States, including myself, and our leaders who have broken faith with their veterans!!