Enough is enough, the VA has failed miserably and American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger has the courage to call for the resignations of the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey. The American Legion is the largest Veterans organization and a loud voice for Veterans, not for heartless, ineffective bureaucrats. I served on the National Executive Committee for three years and I can tell you it took real leadership and courage to move the Legion to this decision. This is NOT PARTISAN, Veterans are more important than politics.
Allegations from multiple whistleblowers of a secret waiting list at the Phoenix VA Health Care System that may have resulted in the death of approximately 40 veterans have finally made the news. Last year even the VA’s own Office of Medical Inspector reported that clerks at the VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado, were instructed how to falsify appointment records so it appeared the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency’s goal of 14 days. “These disturbing reports are part of what appear to be a pattern of scandals that has infected the entire system,” Dellinger said, noting issues that have come up in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia, “Those problems need addressed at the highest level – starting with new leadership. The existing leadership has exhibited a pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership that has been amplified in recent weeks.”
Dellinger said that the failure to disclose safety information or to cover up mistakes is unforgivable – as is fostering a culture of nondisclosure. “VA leadership has demonstrated its incompetence through preventable deaths of veterans, long wait times for medical care, a benefits claims backlog numbering in excess of 596,000, and the awarding of bonuses to senior executives who have overseen such operations,” he said. “Some veterans have waited years to have their claims decided. That same leadership has failed to provide answers to why these issues continue to occur.”
Dellinger said that while errors and lapses can occur in any system, “The American Legion expects when such errors and lapses are discovered, that they are dealt with swiftly and that the responsible parties are held accountable. This has not happened at the Department of Veterans Affairs. There needs to be a change, and that change needs to occur at the top.“
When asked by media what the Legion would do if the trio didn’t resign, Dellinger said a draft of the request was being sent to the White House. “This is a very serious situation,” he said. “The administration needs to take steps now. It’s long overdue. Whenever you’re talking about a patient’s life – a veteran’s life – in jeopardy, it’s always serious.”
James Pert served as a Marine in Vietnam. Diagnosed with skin cancer, diabetes and Post Traumatic Stress, he died as he waited for a medical appointment at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. “How could they treat him so badly, when he served his country so honorably?” his widow, Sandy Pert, said to the International Business Times.
The interview came on the heels of a shocking CNN report that administrators at the hospital kept a secret waiting list, which included veterans waiting more than 200 days for an appointment. Not surprisingly, more than 40 veterans may have needlessly died while waiting. The other list – the one that was not kept secret, according to Dr. Sam Foote –included only patients that would be seen in the next 15 days, a reasonable period intended to make executives look good and earn generous bonuses for the top brass.
More disturbing is that this is not isolated to the Grand Canyon State. More reports of “fixed” scheduling are coming from places like Fort Collins, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming.
As national commander of The American Legion, Dan Dellinger was able to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office a few weeks ago. He expressed The American Legion’s strong concerns about service at the VA and also discussed the unacceptable benefits backlog and poor access to facilities with Shinseki. American Legion Senior Staff Members met with top VA officials and found the meetings far less than satisfactory and the answers not very forthcoming. In fact, the secretary didn’t seem to fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation and, at the time, didn’t feel anybody needed to be replaced. If it were a private institution or if the executives were still in the military, they would be relieved of duty.
VA’s senior leaders didn’t seem to realize that one great tragedy of these delays and needless deaths is that they undeniably besmirch the compassionate work of thousands of dedicated VA employees and the outstanding care that many facilities provide. A few years ago, Unfortunately, the Legion does not see VA enacting the culture change that it so desperately needs with the current leadership in place. Senior VA leaders have isolated themselves from the media and, more importantly, from answering to their shareholders, America’s veterans.
The Legion looks forward to hearing the results of the VA Inspector General’s report and The American Legion welcomes Senator Bernie Sanders’ intention to hold hearings based on the IG’s findings.
Putting Phoenix VA director Sharon Helman and two other senior executives on administrative leave with full pay and benefits is a typical response for government Agencies. VA clearly has a widespread problem that goes beyond the misbehavior of three people. Moreover, VA has been dragging its feet in dealing with the backlog of disability claims and modernizing its records. The private sector would never tolerate such inefficiency and callousness. Neither should veterans.
What’s wrong with America? Welfare claims are expedited at the speed of light, heck just about anybody can get food stamps including millionaires, drug dealers, high class call girls, illegal aliens and yes, even government bureaucrats. Have you forgotten about the $2,000 debit cards handed out like candy after Katrina? Many of them fell into the wrong hands like the Captain of the crippled Costa Concordia cruise ship tripped and fell into a lifeboat. By the time it was all said and done, a billion dollars was wasted giving aid to people using prison inmate’s names or claiming their home was in a cemetery. Stuff happens but stuff just does not happen that favors Veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
On a personal note, I was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. Eventually, I was awarded a couple of hundred dollars a month for ONLY one of my ailments and that money was taken out of my pension. The VA robbed Gene McVay to pay Gene McVay. I know, I know, that should have made me ecstatic but I am one of those greedy Veterans who would like to have what I’m owed according to the law. Like hundreds of thousands of other Veterans, I appealed the VA decision making sure the “i’s” were dotted and the “t’s” were crossed. After a year or two I was offered the privilege of driving 340 miles round trip to discuss my case to somebody on TV. My Veteran Service Officer (VSO) and I agreed that nothing needed to be added to my appeal and the VSO notified the VA that I did not desire the meeting. We thought that might expedite consideration. Of course I wasn’t surprised after some time when I received a notification that my scheduled TV meeting had been postponed and rescheduled. Again my VSO notified the VA that I still did not desire the TV meeting.
So, over three years have passed, I lost a kidney, received chemo and radiation paid for by my health insurance and still no word from the VA. I wonder where that claim is setting? Maybe somebody can set it near the water cooler where a bureaucrat might happen to see it? Don’t cry for me, cry for the hundreds of thousands of Veterans in my same boat but without health insurance and even without a home. Veterans are twice as likely to be homeless as the general population and female Veterans are more likely to be homeless than males. I believe the treatment of our Veterans is a preposterous National humiliation but who am I?
I have been a leader in various Veterans Organizations and attended meetings with high ranking VA officials and listened to speeches by the VA Secretary and Under Secretaries promising grandiose things. Veteran Leaders and VA Leaders praise each other while exchanging plaques year after year. The only thing that changes is the faces. The Veterans still languish. Those who can’t take the abuse and lack of care take their own lives. The Suicide rate among Veterans is another National embarrassment. At least 22 Veterans kill themselves every single day and that published rate may be low. The suicide rate among young Veterans under 30 soared by 44% between 2009 and 2011, the latest data available. Americans and our Legislators are concerned about things like Amnesty for Illegal Aliens, saving Desert Tortoises and stopping oil pipelines but prefer to keep Veterans out of sight and out of mind.
Don’t think for a moment that I am a dreamer. I expect nothing to change, in fact, I expect things to get worse. We will NEVER get a day’s work for a day’s pay out of bureaucrats, NEVER. Congress will NEVER outlaw government unions, the workers must be protected from child labor, poor working conditions in air conditioned marble buildings, poor pay that averages twice what is paid in the private sector and black lung disease (sarcasm). Congressmen can write letters and Veterans can plead, hat in hand, but NOTHING will change. The show must go on. The unofficial VA Motto, “Delay, deny and wait until they die” should become the official VA Motto. Our Federal Government is above the Law. Congressmen and Governors go to prison but Bureaucrats are put on PAID administrative leave. Veteran’s claims should be contracted to India or China where they are 1,000 times more efficient. President Obama wants universal healthcare, maybe we can include Veterans. Veterans are people too. With the money spent on VA Healthcare, Veterans could get real Healthcare in real hospitals like real people.
The VA was a good idea in the beginning and worked fine for a while with Five Star General Omar Bradley as Administrator. Bradley told VA workers, “We are dealing with veterans, not procedures; with their problems, not ours.” Make no mistake, Omar Bradley was a great leader and they are all gone. Omar Bradley would not make Major in today’s military. I will leave you with another quote from General Bradley given during a Veterans Day Speech in 1948:
“We have men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.”