November 11, 2007 –
To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.
If those words seem vaguely familiar, if somewhat out of fashion, it is because they form the motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The words are a direct quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address in March of 1865.
The first part of the quote begins “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” It was near the end of the Civil War and Lincoln wanted to reconcile the country. He knew tens of thousands of veterans would be coming home, many in need of help. Many veterans of that horrible war would not be coming home, leaving widows and orphans to fend for themselves.
Although the words were spoken when veterans were almost exclusively men, the mission of the VA to care for veterans – male and female – is important and increasingly complex.
This Veterans Day we honor all those who have served and are serving our country in the military. Their duty has helped us keep the flame of liberty lit for the entire world to see.
In exchange, our country promises soldiers services and benefits after their tours are finished. A special commitment is extended to those returning with physical and emotional wounds.
Sadly, those promises often have fallen short in execution. There have been too many scandals involving the care veterans were, or more importantly, were not receiving in facilities that would not meet minimum standards in the private sector.
Soldiers needing medical or psychological treatment are bounced between the Department of Defense and the VA, often getting wrong or conflicting advice about benefits. The medical record databases of the two agencies can’t communicate causing delays and denials of legitimate benefit claims.
Veterans from wars as far back as Vietnam still struggle with problems that have not been adequately addressed by the VA such as the effects of exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange and the lingering tragedy of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Recent veterans of service in Afghanistan and Iraq complain of bureaucratic delays and denials of service.
President Bush has nominated a retired lieutenant general and physician to head the VA. Dr. James B. Peake is also an executive with a company – QTC Management – that receives most of its revenue from federal veterans programs, including one contract that could be worth $1 billion according to the Los Angeles Times. Anthony J. Principi is chairman of QTC and its former president. He also served as secretary of the VA until his resignation in early 2005.
Asking another executive of the same company that is profiting from the VA’s outsourcing to head the struggling agency doesn’t inspire confidence in an objective reform.
Why are we bringing up the VA’s dirty laundry on Veterans Day – a day we should be saying thanks to those who served and are serving?
It is right and proper to say thank you and honor our veterans on this special day. However, our words would mean more if they were backed by action in demanding our government through the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration keep our promises:
•Clean up those hospital and medical facilities that have fallen into disrepair.
•Fully fund those programs that we promised to the veterans.
•End the bureaucratic ping-pong that delays or prevents timely and proper care of our veterans.
A bill implementing some of the recommendations resulting from the horrible conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital is working its way through Congress. It’s a start, but the problem is much larger that repairing buildings.
Thank you, veterans, for your past and present service. Our hope is that this time next year we can report significant progress in making good on our promises to you.