It's been a dirty little secret for a long time that a lot of veterans were less that thrilled with the care and attention they got from the VA.
The recent VA scandal, triggered by some whistleblowers who should get medals for having the courage to come forward, lifted the rock on VA operations.
The subsequent investigative report directed by the White House, which was released last week, pulled no punches in describing in its summary a "corrosive" culture of neglect, long waiting times and substandard patient care.
Besides ripping administrators for allowing, and in some cases abetting, that substandard care, it noted that the VA doesn't have enough doctors, nurses and specialists, such as psychiatrists trained in treating PTSD symptoms. It addition, much of its equipment is outdated, in some cases even antiquated.
In a rare display of bipartisan action, Congress (and the president), have beat their chests, bemoaned the results, and called for reform. They all got on the record calling for reform. Now let's see if they put any money where their mouths are.
Back in the middle of the Bush administration, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Officer were both telling anyone who would listen that this country was looking at a multi-trillion-dollar increase in VA costs over the next decade. Battlefield medicine has gotten so good that today more soldiers who get hit survive than die, although often they're left with permanent disabilities. Plus, there has been a significant rise in the identification of battlefield stress issues such as PTSD. The GAO and CBO saw the handwriting on the wall ten years ago and clearly indicated more money was going to be needed by the VA to keep up with needs.
But neither of the last two presidents or Congress have really made it a priority. Until the scandal broke earlier this year, the VA just wasn't a squeaky wheel they needed to hear. What funding increases they did provide essentially covered inflation and a few other costs, but fell well below what the government's bean counters were saying was going to be needed.
And for all the political rhetoric and election-year positioning of the last three months over the VA scandal, we have yet to see anyone jump up and say, "yes, we need to commit a trillion dollars over the next decade to meeting the needs of our brave veterans."
Yet, if it isn't done now, as our wars (hopefully) wind down, the patriotic fervor on behalf of veterans will inevitably begin to decline, as it always has in times of peace, and the political will will fade as well.
Cleaning the VA's administrative house and reorganizing its procedures and accountability may help some, but in the end it is more doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, modern equipment and funds for more beds, halfway houses and outreach programs that are really needed.
Fixing the VA needs more than just political rhetoric and a new organization chart. It needs money. A lot of money. In this election year, it will be interesting to see which politicians in this country are willing to make that commitment, or just intend to talk the problems away.
-- Kelly Everitt