Will Obama use his ‘phone and pen’ to stop VA from killing Vets?

May 7, 2014


In December 1777, the Continental Army encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 soldiers died in camp — congressional inaction and political posturing did what no British musket ball ever could. Though the war ended in 1783, it would take another 35 years for the government they founded to grant surviving veterans a pension.

By the time Lee surrendered to Grant, more than 600,000 combatants for the Blue or the Gray lay in graves scattered across the country. Tens of thousands of veterans of that horror drifted from soldiers’ home to soldiers’ home, from town to town “out west,” or just plain gave up.

Those that came back from World War I were treated so badly that in 1932 more than 40,000 supporters encamped in Washington, D.C., to demand cash for veterans’ future “bonus payments.” They were driven out like criminals by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur and would not see those bonuses paid until 1936, when Congress finally overrode President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s veto.

Those of the “greatest generation” who survived World War II and Korea got the GI bill but were kept locked in emotional prisons by a code of silence that wreaked untold damage upon them and their families for decades.

Vietnam veterans are still wiping the spit off their uniforms and pulling the knives out of their backs.

Desert Storm vets still get red tape as they battle Gulf War syndrome, and the tens of thousands of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan now are just beginning to endure the war after the war.

From our founding, we Americans have been a strange lot. We provide the world a beacon of freedom, saved the 20th century from itself and put men on the moon.

Yet when it comes to truly caring, truly repaying the debt we owe our veterans, we’re deadbeats. We send them off in glory, we pin medals on them, we welcome them back with speeches and parades, and then we treat them like the enemy.

Last month, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said there was evidence that the Phoenix VA Health Care System kept two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits and that as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting medical care. Whistle-blowers are confirming Miller’s evidence, and USA Today reports that clerks at the Fort Collins, Virginia, clinic were also told to falsify appointment records.

The problems are so bad that on Monday the national commander of the American Legion, Daniel M. Dellinger, took the extraordinary step of calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, stating: “It’s not something we do lightly. But we do so today because it is our responsibility as advocate for the men and women who have worn this nation’s uniform.”

It’s a responsibility that President Barack Obama himself spoke of when in August 2009 he stood before the VFW in Phoenix and told veterans that whether they left the service in 2009 or 1949, “we will fulfill our responsibility to deliver the benefits and care that you earned. … And since there has been so much misinformation out there about health insurance reform, let me say this: One thing that reform won’t change is veterans’ health care. No one is going to take away your benefits — that is the plain and simple truth. We’re expanding access to your health care, not reducing it.”

Either the president was wrong or the American Legion is wrong.

Obama likes to brag about taking action with his “phone and pen.”

Well, Mr. President, what do you say? Our veterans are waiting. I’ll even lend you my pen.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  This column first appeared in the May 7, 2014 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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