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
My dad would have been 66 today, but he died 360 days ago.
My dad was not a person without flaws, but in the last 10 years of his life, the person I came to know was a great person. He was an exceptional grandfather to my half-sister’s son. He helped with school projects and walked him to and from school everyday. He loved his family, even though I’m not quite sure they deserved it.
He was an extremely creative person. He was an artist in his own right. He could fabricate replacement parts for antique light fixtures and he could lay the most beautiful patterned wood floors. He liked riding his bicycle to the beach. He loved to garden and watch movies.
He loved being there for his friends. Even while he was sick, he still couldn’t help himself and could be found at the top of ladders cleaning out gutters for neighbors from the old neighborhood. He’d rake their leaves and fix their plumbing.
He was a very humble person, and would never admit to being as smart as he was. He was the life of the party and loved telling jokes. But more than anything, he loved life.
Having been drafted into the Army during Vietnam he became disenchanted with the government and claimed to be apolitical. However, he kept up with all things foreign affairs and military related. He could tell you more about it than anyone else you know.
If you follow Veterans Affairs related news you might have heard about how veterans have been dying because of delayed care. He would never call himself a victim. But I can tell you now that he was a victim of that system. He went to the Jesse Brown VAMC ER in October of 2011 and was told he had cancer and ultimately waited almost 8 months until they began his chemotherapy treatment.
Even though it’s been a year since he died, the sadness is enduring. It’s hard to process something that you can’t rationalize. On a daily basis, I play it all back in my head, over and over again. I can’t make it make sense. Someone once asked me if I thought there was some kind of mistake, I said it was a series of mistakes. He was failed by nearly every doctor he dealt with at Jesse Brown and Hines.
Many VA hospitals are used for teaching medical students, and many of the doctors my dad dealt with were ill equipped students, not yet ready to deal with the complexity of chronic illnesses (ex. agent orange, gulf war syndrome, ptsd, tbi, and cancer). The social workers were just as much of a let down. The only social worker I can think of that actually did their job was the one at Hines that made the arrangements for me to stay at the nearby Fisher House while my dad was a patient there.
I can concede that my dad may have never been cured of cancer, but I’ll never know. The VA did not provide him the chance. I firmly believe that he would not have died February 23, 2013 had they implemented a cancer care protocol more similar to that of the civilian sector.
I’m not really sure why the issue of delayed care hasn’t received more attention. I’ll guess, I’m sorry to say, it’s because legislators like Tammy Duckworth (of my own party) only care about embarrassing and belittling phony veterans with foot pain, receiving government contracts . I’d love to tell her about my dad’s crippling pain. My dad’s cancer ate the bones in his spine, neck, and pelvis while the VA did very little. He reached a point where he could no longer move or speak.
I want to know why legislators like Duckworth don’t take care to focus on more life and death issues like the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Pittsburgh VAMC, delayed cancer care in South Carolina, hepatitis in Buffalo, or over prescribing of opiates, to name a few.
The VA has had 83 years to figure it out. This can’t be the best we can do for our veterans. To say these problems are not systemic is a fallacy. Delayed care is denied care. Last year, during the height of the claims backlog controversy there was a call for Sec. Shinseki to resign. I couldn’t agree more. There is no one better than him to answer for the shortcomings of the VA and the death they are responsible for.
Does the VA do some good? Sure, they have home loan programs, homeless assistance programs, vocational programs, and the GI Bill. But none of those programs did anything to save my dad’s life. It seems that if you don’t have a service connected disability you probably don’t matter. I’d love to ask Tammy Duckworth where she would be if she had to wait 8 months for treatment when she needed it most.