Commentary

Saunders: No shortage of strong feelings about the Veterans Administration

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMay 25, 2014 

“INCOMING!!!!”

That’s a common cry in every war movie you’ve ever seen – and if you turn to just about any channel Monday, you’ll see one – when the enemy starts attacking. It’s also a common cry when a newspaper columnist writes something critical of a government agency that lots of people revere.

The Veterans Administration in recent weeks has been excoriated after allegations that its service to those who’ve served in our nation’s military has been substandard. “Substandard,” my eye: criminally negligent, in some instances.

Veterans Administration hospitals around the country are being investigated for slow or nonexistent service to ailing vets, with some accused of keeping fake schedules to give the impression that they were providing timely treatment.

Positive thoughts

After talking to some vets who had bad VA experiences and writing about their laments, I found myself ducking verbal mortars from people who had nothing but positive things to say about their treatment at their local VA hospital.

Bob, a retired army officer, disputed claims made by one of the vets to whom I spoke who said four-hour waits at the VA were common. “I have rarely waited over 20 minutes to see my provider,” Bob wrote. “If you have lab work, X-rays, or drugs to pick up, your stay could take hours. The system has worked for me and all the veterans I have taken to Fayetteville and Durham VA medical centers.

“Are there deviations? Yes, but to use hyperbole to expand the situation as a serious problem seems inflammatory and injudicious.”

Hyperbole? The VA itself has confirmed six deaths tied to delays at the VA hospital in Columbia, S.C. Could be more.

Tom’s tale

I told each of these men and others who feel as they do that, while it was wonderful that the service they receive has been exemplary, evidence abounds that it has not been so for all vets.

Take Tom. The retired career military man – “27 years, 11 months and 11 days” in the U.S. Navy, he said – spoke of having to write to his congressman merely to get the eyeglasses to which he was entitled once every two years.

Just as happened with Boyd Jones, a National Guard veteran I interviewed in the original story, Tom said he was initially told when he applied for treatment that there was no record of his having served in the military.

Just as with Jones, again, it turned out that digits in his Social Security number had been transposed or changed. “I checked my copy of the VA 1010 just to make sure I had not made these errors,” he said. “How this could occur from a computerized entry still baffles me today.”

Peter, a retired U.S. Marine Corps vet, wrote, “Some people may be of the opinion that vets think the world must revolve around them. ... The majority of vets just want what we were promised and nothing more. ... Take accountability and FIX the disgusting culture being practiced at many VA facilities nationwide. Clean house, build a new team with new procedures/policies, and use the taxpayers’ money wisely.”

Peter, who said he served in the Gulf War and operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedoms, said he has contacted his state representatives and U.S. senators regarding “horror stories” with his local VA.

Veterans shouldn’t have to reach out to politicians to get what they were promised.

Responses were evenly split between those who thought last week’s piece on the VA was a laudable effort to ensure prompt medical service for servicemen and servicewomen and those who thought I should go commit an unnatural act with a flag.

Only one reader, though, suggested that the existence of the VA itself was the problem. A reader who signed himself “Fuji” wrote, “I get it that it’s (M)emorial (D)ay, so sure that’s great that you’re giving (vets) a pat on the back. But I hope everybody moves on soon, or at least stops with these romantic, idealized notions of the members of the armed forces (and what they do).

“The VA should probably not exist, and I hope the Tea Party people are making note of that. It is big government at its worst. ... This VA ‘scandal’ only goes to show how we need a single-payer health care system for all. Vets are guaranteed health care, and children are not? What’s with that? Think about it. I bet any good soldier would sacrifice this benefit for a system that guaranteed dental and health care to all children from birth to adulthood. That’s the society we should be striving for.”

Healthcare for everybody? What is he – a Commie?

INCOMING!!!!!

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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