If you follow mainstream national news you’ve probably heard that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned this morning. When he met in front of legislators last week he told them he thought the problems were isolated. That alone has shed light on how out of touch the Secretary was from what has been going on with the health care side of the VA. I don’t think there is one pivotal instance that was a failure on his part, it was all of the little things building up and sticking together. His resignation was met with mixed reactions, many of his supporters have taken it personal, but I think many of them have confused criticisms of system flaws and his leadership as attacks against him as a human being, veteran, and friend. I believe wholeheartedly that he is a good person and always had the best of intentions, but you can’t unring a bell. His resignation alone won’t be enough to fix everything, but I hope the new secretary will be able to implement new standards and change the climate at the VA and move forward with providing veterans the best care available. We can stop bickering about which political party did this or what veteran service organization didn’t do that, it doesn’t matter. The veterans that continue to wait for necessary medical attention matter the most. Additionally, let us not forget the suffering inflicted on veterans and their families that were not fortunate enough to get timely appointments and medical attention and weren’t able to live long enough to see changes to the system.
For the past several weeks there have been countless stories, articles, news segments, tweets and so on regarding the “new” Veterans Affairs scandal that started at the Phoenix VA medical center. The media, various veterans service organizations, and the House VA Committee have asserted that due to secret wait lists and failed leadership some veterans may have died waiting for care. At this time the acting Inspector General has said that the IG has been unable to find a correlation between patients deaths and secret waiting lists at the VA medical center in Phoenix. Since the Phoenix story broke there have been many other allegations made about delayed and denied care at other VA medical facilities. This controversy has renewed calls for VA Secretary Shinseki to resign or be fired.
The emotions this conjures up has made it very difficult for me to articulate my feelings about it all. It’s a double edged sword. It’s hard to say this but I take pleasure in the fact that delays in care at the VA have been brought to light but it reminds me of what my father lost, what I lost, and countless other families, too. People are already pointing and wagging their fingers but no one is standing up to take responsibility for what has happened. I cannot stress this enough, this isn’t a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. It’s a people problem, it’s life and death. It’s also not unfair for the families of the veterans that died because of delayed care to want answers and to have what happened to them acknowledged.
It’s naive to think that the IG will be truly unbiased or independent, it is after all a government agency investigating a government agency. (The IRS wouldn’t let my neighbor/friend audit me even if she was a CPA, right?) Like any government agency (ex. Army unit, County Municipality, IRS, etc…) at any and all levels when possible professional courtesies are extended and covering down happens in order to take care of things at the quietest and lowest levels possible. It is not in the interest of the government to find fault with the VA because of the potential for litigation and the financial burden it could impose.
It doesn’t matter how many veterans the VA puts through college or job training, or how many home loans they process, it doesn’t even matter how many veterans receive great medical care if even one veteran gets left behind.
It’s not just a problem for veterans or their families to carry: Why we need to be shareholders of the VA