Fighting for the care our veterans deserve

Every day, thousands of servicemen and servicewomen make tremendous sacrifices for our country. When we return to civilian life, we expect our government will have our backs. Sadly, that’s not always the case.

It’s been two years since Americans learned of rampant neglect of veterans at the hands of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It started with reports of  employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) systematically manipulating patient appointment wait times at the Phoenix VA medical center, leaving untold numbers of veterans without the timely medical care they needed and deserved. We even discovered that veterans died waiting for appointments.

ADVERTISEMENT
Many of us expected a rapid response to improve the situation; instead, we’ve seen report after report detailing continued wait time problems at VA facilities nationwide. In fact, just this week VA Secretary Robert McDonald scoffed at the notion that the VA should be held accountable for wait times, arguing that because Disney doesn’t use wait times as a measure of success, neither should the VA. While the comparison was insulting on its face, at least visitors to Disney World get to choose which rides they want. Veterans do not have the luxury of choosing where to get their care.

A recent analysis found that employees at 40 VA facilities in 19 different states regularly “zeroed out” patient wait times, effectively making wait times look much shorter than they actually were, even after the Phoenix scandal occurred. What’s more, just last month there were 70,000 more veterans waiting longer than one month for appointments than there were last May.

For a new patient needing to see a VA physician, the situation isn’t much different. A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that new VA patients are now waiting three to 10 weeks on average to be seen by doctors. Some clinics have even stopped accepting new patients altogether.

But it’s not just waiting for appointments where veterans are neglected. In the past few months, we’ve seen reports of privacy violations, insufficient suicide prevention training, and a suicide hotline that sent calls directly to voicemail. And let’s not forget about the routine practice of benefits offices incorrectly shredding important documents from veterans’ files.

Each time we hear of new issues at VA facilities, we expect immediate action. Sadly, the VA lacks the ability to effectively hold its staffers accountable for wrongdoing or negligence, and so problematic employees have simply been shuffled around to new facilities. All the while, many continued to receive huge pay bonuses.

But the issues go far beyond the VA. Overspending in Washington is undermining the security veterans fought to protect.

Our country now has a record $19 trillion national debt. This carelessness hurts our economy and military strength, and puts our country at risk, according to former defense officials.

The sad truth is that much of this debt comes from wasteful and inefficient spending. The Department of Defense spends unnecessarily on some projects while the military struggles to get troops the gear they need for day-to-day operations. Some troops have even been forced to buy their own medical equipment and helmets due to budgeting and approval processes.

When my sniper team would go out on a mission, we were expected to conserve critical resources and keep ourselves going. Why are we as a country not taking the same approach with our economy?

We must start taking care of those who defend our freedom, both while they are deployed and when they return home. That’s where my organization, Concerned Veterans for America, comes in.

A group of veterans ourselves, CVA has been on the front lines of the battle for comprehensive VA reform. Our nationwide network of grassroots activists continues to call on lawmakers to pass legislation, such as the VA Accountability Act, which would allow management to hold problematic employees accountable for their actions.

But our work goes beyond calls for action; we’ve also offered up viable policy solutions that would bring about real reforms.

Our Fixing Veterans Health Care report, drafted by a bipartisan task force of health policy experts and legislators, would go a long way toward making sure the VA truly puts veterans first and provides us with the quality of care we deserve.

CVA has also been working hard to address the issues that go beyond the VA, making sure the work of our service members endures. We recently launched the Target the Debt campaign, which outlines the problems with Washington’s out-of-control spending and the solutions to eliminate the waste that puts our country — and our military — at risk.

A lot of people talk about the need to fix our country’s problems, but CVA has led the way in offering up the real solutions we need. Our troops put their lives on the line to fight for freedom overseas. We must take care of them when they return home.


McGregor is national outreach director at Concerned Veterans for America.