The recent allegations of scandalous behavior at the Department of Veterans Affairs are the latest in a long line of mistreatment of our veterans.

After the Vietnam War, the VA stonewalled on the seriousness of the effect of Agent Orange on veterans and then made it difficult for them to receive treatment for exposure to the chemical combination. The VA was incredibly slow to acknowledge and then treat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

It’s not just been the VA, but also the Defense Department, Congress and our presidents. When we chose to go to war in Iraq, we sent in our troops without the proper protection. Only after thousands of soldiers had been killed or wounded by IED’s did the federal government take steps to properly protect them. We also sent troops for multiple tours of duty.

After they returned from these two latest conflicts they were not treated well either. The scandal at Walter Reed Hospital showed the poor medical conditions – infestations of rats and cockroaches along with black mold – in which injured and rehabilitating veterans lived. And now we have a situation in which the backlog for veterans to be admitted to the VA system for medical care and received has increased, and records of medical treatment have been falsified. In addition, at some VA hospitals prescription drugs were apparently illegally distributed while top officials at a VA hospital in Pittsburgh allegedly covered up human involvement in an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that killed at least six veterans.

Unfortunately, this latest situation is just a continuation of a previous problem. In 2007, the editors for the Charlotte Observer wrote that the cover up of long waiting lines “are shameful but not surprising. Too many at the VA seem to focus on appearing to help veterans rather than making sure veterans really get help.” Since we had a Republican president at that time, Democrats were quick to criticize the Bush administration for allowing such egregious behavior within the VA to occur.

When President Obama campaigned he said he would fix the problems at the VA. To this administration’s credit, they made it easier for veterans to receive treatment for Agent Orange and PTSD. What they did not do, however, was prepare for the increase in cases. In 2009, there were 423,000 veterans’ claims with 150,000 backlogged for more than four months. Three year later, there were 883,000 claims with 586,000 backlogged for more than four months. As far as waiting to be admitted into the system and receiving the proper benefits, including medical care, the situation had gotten worse.

What is baffling is that the Obama administration used the latest in modern technology in the president’s re-election efforts. And yet, the present administration seems unable to implement that technology to update the VA system to serve veterans more efficiently. And so, just as Democrats criticized President Bush, Republicans are now criticizing President Obama.

Since this problem has occurred over both Republican and Democratic administrations, both parties are at fault. Those who are responsible for the latest illegal actions should be investigated and dismissed or prosecuted. But that does not solve the long-term problem, which the VA seems to have. Congress and the president need to work together to begin to find and implement long-term solutions for the VA. Those items include not only accurately assessing the needs of soldiers not only when they are on the battlefield but also providing veterans with the proper benefits and assistance they deserve months and even years after they have left the battlefield.

Today is Memorial Day, the day to honor those veterans who are no longer with us. It is fitting and proper to hold parades and ceremonies to honor them, to write stories and articles about what they meant to us, to take time to remember what they meant to us as individuals but also to our country. But beyond that there is nothing we can do for those dearly departed. Maybe a better way to honor them is to take care of their living brethren, those veterans who are still among us. At the very least we should be able to provide them with a system that not only gives them the best training, equipment and leadership when they enter combat, but also provide them, once their tours of duty are over, the benefits that they were promised will be delivered in a timely and professional manner. To do any less for our veterans is disgraceful.


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