Op-Ed

Calling all NC veterans to get out and vote

The 2014 elections are less than two weeks away. Rarely is an election so important for our veteran community. The Department of Veterans Affairs has faded from the headlines after a summer of revelations regarding secret wait lists, months-long waits for doctor’s appointments and veterans dying while waiting for care. Our situation hasn’t changed, even after the president signed the “reform” bill in August.

Now the only way for us to get real reform is to vote Nov. 4.

Here’s where things stand at the VA: It takes an average 41 days to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician and 43 days for a mental health appointment in Durham. And with 53 percent of North Carolina’s disability claims on backlog, it takes an average 240 days – close to 8 months – for them to process our claims.

This is after Congress’s self-congratulatory reforms became law in August.

So why haven’t these reforms had any meaningful effect? Because rather than actually getting to the heart of the problem – a bureaucracy so broken that it cannot properly function – Congress just did what it always does: Throw more money at the problem and institute evermore bureaucracy.

Making an institution crippled by bureaucracy even more bureaucratic is as sensible as refueling a sinking ship – the added weight will only make it sink faster.

A glaring example of Congress’s shortcomings came last week. To increase accountability at the VA, the new reforms enabled the secretary of the VA to immediately fire high-ranking officials. But when it was announced that four such officials would be dismissed, two – including one who had been facing criminal prosecution for her involvement – were allowed to retire instead with all the retirement benefits taxpayers have to offer. These individuals will never be held accountable for their actions.

Veterans, on the other hand, don’t have an easy way out. We’re still dealing with the VA and its problems. Such unequal treatment is simply not right and is all the more evidence that additional real reform is needed at the VA. My organization, Concerned Veterans for America, has kept the pressure on both the VA and politicians not to lose sight of the end goal: Reforming the VA in a way that adds real accountability and delivers the highest quality medical care to our veterans.

But this mission cannot be achieved if Raleigh’s veterans don’t make their voices heard. It’s absolutely critical that we all vote.

To see to it that our veterans are armed with the information needed to make an informed decision, CVA is hosting a free concert Saturday. Anyone is welcome to attend.

We also have plenty of volunteer opportunities for those interested in reaching out to our veteran community. Through our new Get Out the Veteran (GOTVets) initiative, we have been contacting thousands of veterans and their families across the state to make sure they know the importance of showing up at the polls.

There is still a long way to go to ensure our nation’s heroes are properly cared for when they return home from battle. But it all starts with voting and letting Congress know its mission is not yet complete.

John Byrnes is a Marine combat veteran and a local director for Concerned Veterans for America.

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