Over the weekend in New York, I watched the pomp and circumstance of Memorial Day up close and personal.
I had the opportunity to visit my dad’s gravesite at the Calverton National Cemetery and was amazed at the tens of thousands of white granite headstones, all veterans and their spouses or dependents.
Late Saturday, the American Airpower Museum honored my dad and another vet who passed away over the past year with a “Missing Man” formation. This one had a P-47 Thunderbolt, a P-40 “Flying Tiger,” a P-51 Mustang and a B-25 Mitchell.
They played taps as the P-40 peeled off, leaving the formation one plane short. My sister, brother-in-law and I cried as the planes passed.
However, Sunday was not a day of remembrance on the talking-head shows, but a day of allegations and condemnation over the maltreatment of our veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs health centers.
Members of Congress from both sides called for heads to roll, for criminal investigations and for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. But Congress needs to add one more name into the pot of those at fault — the United States Congress.
According to Newsday, some 600,000 vets had to wait more than 125 days for a decision on their applications for disability alone. Richard Griffin, the VA’s acting inspector general, told a congressional hearing that “it's one thing to be on a waiting list; it's another for that to be the cause of death.”
It is estimated that as many as 40 deaths are due to the delays and bureaucracy.
The delays are caused, in part, by an overwhelming of the system. Shinseki told the same hearing that the VA sees 236,000 appointments a day, about 85 million a year, at almost 2,000 locations.
The secretary said this made the VA system the "largest integrated health-care delivery system in the U.S.”
The system has been overwhelmed by the number surviving wounds that during the Gulf War would have been fatal and the pervasive problems with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Today I received an email asking for a petition to be signed. It read in part, “But the bigger scandal is that Republicans in Congress — led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — have blocked funding for VA programs and facilities. They are robbing our veterans of the medical services they need, earned and deserve.”
It was under McConnell’s leadership that only three months ago the Senate Republicans “filibustered a bill that would have boosted VA funding by $21 billion, expanded benefits …”
This is just the most recent blow to our veterans by the GOP since Barack Obama took office. In 2012, the GOP Senate minority bloc blocked a $1 billion veterans jobs program. In 2009 it was the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act, the Veterans Retraining Act, and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act, among many others.
This is not a new problem. The National Journal reported that the problems with the old Veterans Administration began during the Kennedy years. The Bush administration did not have it any easier, remembering the 2007 Walter Reed medical center fiasco.
Blaming Shinseki is certainly proper, but the finger-pointing must not stop there. By underfunding the VA, both houses of Congress have become disingenuous toward our veterans, instead playing the political card of “let’s take care of our heroes,” regardless of who introduces the bill.
Fortunately, although the problems seem insurmountable, those who have received their appointments and medical treatment are very pleased with the care they received from the VA. It also shows that the problems may be limited to a few of the more than 150 VA hospitals throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
It is time that we tell our own senators, Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, that our veterans deserve better than to wait endlessly before they can be seen by a VA medical provider.
Veterans have been promised health care and disability payments, as well as student aid and homeowner loans. It is time both sides of the aisle stop pointing the finger at others and start with their own houses to clear up this despicable situation.
We must keep our promises to those who serve their county.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.