Once again the American people are being treated to a disgusting display of hypocrisy. This time health care for our veterans is the political football that is being used by the right-wing politicians and the right-wing media.
Fox News, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and others are suddenly concerned about alleged cooking of the books at Veterans Administration hospitals – trying to make it look like wait times for vets in need of care are shorter than they actually are
They’ve coupled their “concern” with demands that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resign and with new attacks on the “incompetent” Obama administration, which they accuse of reneging on its commitment to good care for veterans.
U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation 11 weeks ago that would have expanded federal health care and education programs for veterans. Mitch McConnell and his gang on Capitol Hill said that $24 billion cost of the expansion of care for veterans would bust the budget. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama didn’t even mention veterans in his speech opposing the bill. “We can’t be spending more money when the ink isn’t even dry on our last spending bill,” he said.
Neither of these gentlemen, nor Fox news, nor any of the others most outraged by the problems at the VA were at all concerned, however about budget busting or dry ink when they systematically approved spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that we now know totaled more than $6 trillion dollars. The spend fest in Afghanistan continues today.
And it was then-General Shinseki, by the way, who put his career on the line by defying then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by telling the truth about how the war in Iraq was going to fail. Shinseki said it would take several times the number of troops the Bush administration was contemplating especially if the U.S. was going to take responsibility for seeing to it that Iraqis would receive food, water and essential services after the U.S. invasion. It took courage for Shinseki to tell the truth especially since the Bush administration had just forced the retirement of Admiral William Fallon, then the head of U.S. Central Command for saying we were overextending ourselves with the overseas wars.
The right-wing lawmakers ignored the warnings and went ahead with the war anyway – caring nothing about what would happen to the people of Iraq (estimates are that up to a million were killed) or to the U.S. troops during and after the war.
The truth is the VA was not equipped to deal with the aftermath of two multi-trillion dollar land wars. To deal with the aftermath properly the agency has to be modernized and beefed up and given far more, not fewer resources.
Despite this reality, however, the Obama administration has actually presided over some improvements in the process for getting veterans into the health system and then getting them to be seen. Old paper files have been replaced with a modern computerized system.
The problem is that as a result of these wars there is a whole new generation of veterans in need of care. Because of advances in battlefield medicine in recent years more vets return home with wounds and disabilities, both physical and mental. Even though the total number of veterans is, in the 21st century, going down, the number seeking and needing care is rising due to the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles.
The VA has tried to meet some of these needs with new outpatient clinics and a program to reduce homelessness among vets that the agency runs has actually contributed to a reduction in homelessness among vets by 24 percent.
None of this is to diminish the importance of clearing up the problems at the VA. Anything it takes, up to and including performance hearings, investigations and even dismissal needs to be considered. All of these must be done, of course, with strict regard for the rights of workers at the agency – workers who are known, by the way, for delivering excellent care to those who are actually in the hospitals or clinics run by the VA.
We cannot trust, however, most of the Republican lawmakers and their backers in the media who are yelling about this the loudest. The huge rise in the need for services for veterans over the last period and the resulting increased workloads for VA staff are the direct result of the horrible wars these same people were so willing to support.
Photo: Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, center, and President Barack Obama, right, attend a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2013. Wikimedia Commons.