Eric Shinseki has resigned, but the problems that plague the Veteran’s Administration Hospitals remain. In light of the charges that continue to grow, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has to focus on what has quickly become a condemnation of the entire VA hospital system. Getting their own house in order is job one.
The question remains, though: “How do we fix the VA hospital system?”
The VA hospital system has been dysfunctional since the 1970s. Veterans returning from Vietnam were treated like an embarrassment of a war that our government was trying to forget, and the sacrifices these men and women gave were not well understood at the time. The VA was not equipped to cope with the mental and emotional problems these servicemen had, and it was just barely equipped to mend the physical problems that they returned with.
An entire generation of soldiers was treated like they were invisible. The nation’s recoil from the war in Southeast Asia did these men and women a great disservice, and their care was never a high priority. Long waiting times were as common then, as they are now, but few people cared. We did not value our citizen soldiers very highly.
In part, because of that shameful treatment, when service members returned from the first Iraq War, they were showered with promises of the treatment and care they deserved. But any system would be hard-pressed to keep that promise while coping with the continual wars of the last decade. Showering money on the VA has not helped; the abuse runs too deep for mere money to fix.
Bureaucracy is too firmly entrenched in the way things are done in the Department of Veteran Affairs. Some employees are willing to lie, no matter who gets hurt or dies, to preserve their jobs and positions. This is the true tragedy.
General Shinseki was an honorable man tasked with an almost impossible mission hamstrung by bureaucracy. But he had to go. There needed to be a sacrifice to show that the government was doing something, but that is just the beginning. Now, while the abuses and crimes are fresh in everyone’s minds and the outrage over the way we, as a country, have treated our veterans is still strong… now is the time to make lasting reform.
Giving the Director of the VA the ability to fire subordinates is a good first step. Ridding this organization of anyone who puts their job above a serviceman’s life or health would signal that we do care for our veterans.
Slash the levels of bureaucracy between veterans and care. Money invested in administrators would be better used by increasing the number of doctors, nurses and other caregivers. Priority should be given to the people who want to heal the wounds, not to people who maintain the system.
“Priority should be given to the people who want to heal the wounds, not to people who maintain the system.”
This is just a start. So much more needs to be done, but Shinseki’s departure won’t help in the short term. The short term needs of the veterans who are on waiting lists or have fallen through the cracks are a priority that could best be solved with sending them to general care facilities with the expenses covered by the VA. The budget for the VA has increased by leaps and bounds over the last few years. The money that is earmarked for new facilities or goes to non-health programs such as administrative bonuses or prizes for new system design should be used to make sure that our veterans get the best care they can have, right now.
Whoever eventually ends up with the job of Secretary of Veterans Affairs will have a thankless job and they will not succeed in fixing the VA. The problems run too deep. The best they can do is to begin the process of reform and pray that this problem doesn’t get swept under the rug, again, as it has been so many times over the last 40 years.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the opinion of the writer and do not reflect the policies of this website or organization.