By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Every Veterans Day, the nation pays homage to current and past veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. This year was no different. Many national leaders made the customary standard remarks. But has anyone asked about the state of America’s veterans?
This issue came to the forefront in 2014, when 40 veterans died waiting for treatment at the Phoenix Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. It was later revealed that many of those veterans were on a secret waiting list that covered up the many months they were kept from receiving proper medical attention.
Veterans Administration Problems Not Limited to Phoenix Hospital
As the VA health care scandal came to light, the elaborate scheme showed that VA managers manipulated wait time records to agree with required performance goals. This situation wasn’t confined to just the Phoenix VA hospital, it was a systemic problem throughout the VA health care system.
The scandal resulted in a $16.3 billion reform plan that was signed by President Obama. Since 2009, the VA has seen its budget increase from $95 billion to President Trump’s proposed $186 billion VA budget for fiscal year 2018. But with each increase, we still find systemic problems with veterans’ health care.
Even after the $16 billion increase in 2014, the Veterans Administration’s own inspector general found that out of about 800,000 records stalled in the agency’s system for managing health care enrollment, more than 307,000 records belonged to veterans who had died from not getting timely treatment or care.
We have seen revenue increases at the VA before, but they haven’t always brought tangible results. Now President Trump is taking a stab at reforming the Veterans Administration.
President Trump Tackles VA Problems
The White House issued a press statement last Thursday on how the Trump administration is bringing accountability to the VA system. As of this month, the administration has enforced strict accountability standards for all VA personnel. More than 1,160 employees have been fired, 387 employees were suspended and 61 administrators were demoted.
One of the problems facing the VA is protection for whistleblowers who have been marginalized and harassed in the past for reporting abuses. The Trump administration issued an executive order to improve accountability and whistleblower protection by initiating reforms that provide critical transparency and protect the whistleblowers who report nefarious actions to ensure that our veterans get the quality care to which they are entitled.
One of the actions begun by the Trump administration was to open a new VA hotline, staffed mainly by veterans and their family members. It might seem odd to most individuals that only 30% of VA facilities employees served in the Armed Forces.
Trump Issues Presidential Veteran Proclamation to Support Service Members
In a Veterans Day proclamation, paying our respect means recommitting to our nation’s sacred obligation to care for those who have protected the freedom we often take for granted. I have pledged to provide our service members with the best equipment, resources, and support in the world ‑‑ support that must continue after they return to civilian life as veterans.”
The challenges facing our veterans today are both different and similar to what veterans returning from past conflicts endured. Today, veterans have never been more respected, unlike those who returned from Vietnam.
But unlike Vietnam veterans who met other vets from World War II or Korea, today’s veterans face a society that has almost no concept of what they have gone through. Indeed, many Americans have no personal connection to anyone who has served or is serving in the Armed Forces today.
General Kelly Understands the Pain of Losing a Child
One of the most famous Gold Star parents is President Trump’s own Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, whose son was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the Marines. As Kelly said in a St. Louis speech only days after his son died: “We are in a life-and-death struggle, but not our whole country. One percent of Americans are touched by this war. Then there is a much smaller club of families who have given all.”
As veterans transition to civilian life, many of them face unique challenges. Far too often, they also face stereotypical views of veterans that are not based in reality.
I highlight much of this situation in a book I wrote, “The New Business Brigade.” If Americans want to truly aid returning veterans, they need to recognize the quality of the men and woman serving today. When civilians discard old stereotypes, they will be surprised at the outstanding caliber of our nation’s Armed Forces.