Our veterans shouldn’t need an act of Congress and a presidential signature to get the Veterans Affairs healthcare system up to speed. But that’s just what it took.
First comes a whistleblower, followed by a lot of finger pointing and finally, after enough blame was thrown around to fill Lake Lanier, Congress somehow got bipartisan legislation passed to help the VA system fulfill its mission.
Hopefully, President Obama’s signing of this $16.3 billion bill will give veterans easier access to the health care they earned. It’s a start, anyway.
But what we have been witnessing as the so called VA scandal played out probably says more about our country than we’d care to admit. As long as the problem was out of sight, it was out of mind, as have been those who have made the greatest sacrifices in our response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
We can recall few talking much about the sad conditions surrounding VA care except veterans groups such as IAVA, short for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, except when issues surrounding care at specific hospitals became public and were used as political fodder to point fingers at the other side.
Yet the brutal truth is the VA has been uanble to adequately handle veterans suffering from a war which has gone on more than a decade, wounded more than 17,600 soldiers and killed thousands more. And that is nothing new.
Talk to older veterans and they’ll tell you it’s been the same way after their war, and in between wars, too.
Lest you want to pin all the blame on government bureaucracy, there’s been private sector mistreatment of veterans as well, as scammers and supposed charities are out there in abundance, ready to take money from veterans or money donated on behalf of veterans, they’re not picky. It’s a lucrative target, because reports say as much as $12 billion has been donated by private individuals to various veterans care organizations over the past decade or so.
That may be the lone bright spot in this, that there are those who care enough to step up and donate their hard-earned money to worthy nonprofit groups large and small.
Include in that number the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which according to Charity Navigator has provided about $15 million in grants and scholarships to spouses and kids of service members killed on duty from 2003 to 2010 and nearly $100 million on building facilities to help wounded service members at military medical centers.
Closer to home, the Matthew Freeman Project, founded by Lisa Freeman in honor of her son, Marine Captain Matthew Freeman, who was killed five years ago this week in Afghanistan, provides scholarships and helps Gold Star families cope with the loss of loved ones in combat.
Both are worthwhile nonprofit organizations, and there are others well worth supporting. Sadly, there are also such rip off artists as the Florida-based Disabled Veterans Service, which, according to a 2013 report from the Carnegie-Knight initiative on the Future of Journalism Education called News21, told the IRS it raised more than $12 million in donations from 2008-2011 but spent nearly 90 cents of every dollar it received paying fundraising companies to rake in more cash.
It also paid about $740,000 in management fees to a group called FUM, which evidently consisted of a convicted money launderer and his girlfriend.
Common criminals are one thing. Institutionalized ingratitude is worse. Yet it has been a constant over the years.
World War I veterans had to march on Washington in 1932 — 13 years after the end of the war — to get bonuses promised them, and about 40,000 wound up in our nation’s capitol, living in tents until they were evicted by the U.S. Army.
And, according to the VA’s official history, only about 3,000 of this country’s revolutionary war veterans ever drew a pension promised them in 1776.
We can do better. Hopefully, Congress’ passage of this bill is a first step in doing just that.