Writing in the Washington Post, conservative pundit, Kathleen Parker said “In a world of faux outrage…finally we have something about which to be scandalized”. Of course, the mess at many VA Medical Centers is what she is referring to. Conservatives outside of government were double-quick to blame the president, but most congressional Republicans know better. They are aware that the current sad conditions being visited upon our vets are an eruption that has been decades in the making, stretching all the way back to the aftermath of the war in Viet Nam.
During that conflict, then-president Kennedy gave the order to spray the jungles with “Agent Orange”, a toxic defoliant that was meant to destroy the verdant canopy under which the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were moving undetected. The problem was that when our troops were traversing the treated areas, they too were exposed to the toxins. Upon being rotated home and discharged, they began to show up at VA hospitals with a variety of serious health issues, many traceable to their contact with Agent Orange. This surge of patients was unanticipated and VA facilities across the country found themselves over-matched when it came to meeting the new and steady demand for care.
In crucial and fundamental ways, the scenario set forth in the preceding paragraph played itself out as wounded members of our military came home from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. They came with multiple traumas and in such numbers that hospital staffs simply could not cope. Your blogger learned of this from a former colleague; a professional staff member at the local VA. This same report has since been echoed by reputable members of the media.
Throughout this history, Congress has evinced only sporadic support for the VA system. Budget requests for increased funding were met, sometimes with increases, sometimes with cuts and sometimes with a call to “hold the line” meaning that on those occasions, funding was held at its then-present level so that it didn’t even keep up with rising costs due to inflation. You cannot single out one party for this inconsistency; there is plenty of guilt to go around.
What is arguably the worst part of all this, is the fact that our Congresses, made up of both Republicans and Democrats, vote to send our best and bravest into wars with too little pre-planning for dealing with the horrors of those conflagrations as they come home to us. Our vets deserve far better and should be given a very high priority when it comes to how we spend our tax dollars.
An infusion of more money into the VA won’t cure all its ills. But, it must be a part of a comprehensive, systematic upgrading of facilities, staff and services. Anything less and we have done little more than slap a band-aid on an ongoing, intolerable situation.