The Homefront: Why The VA Scandal Rankles America’s Conscience
By now, the details are depressingly familiar. In a series of astonishing revelations, whistleblowers have accused government administrators in the Veterans Affairs (VA) medical system of brazenly falsifying official records regarding veteran treatment. Through a series of creative scheduling tactics, hospital administrators kept official notifications of veteran wait times within policy targets when, in truth, many veterans waited far longer to receive treatment.
Illicit scheduling procedures have already been blamed in the death of scores of veterans across the country. According to the Weekly Standard, the VA has officially linked twenty-three deaths to delays in medical care at thirteen different facilities. CNN alleged that nearly forty veterans had perished while awaiting care at the Phoenix, Arizona branch of the VA system alone. Rumors of corruption and cover-up have been exacerbated by indications that high-level officials in the VA were aware of the scheduling problems as early as 2010.
While the roiling breakers of fresh scandals tend to splinter Washington along party lines, the fiasco at the VA has united voices across the aisle. Republicans and Democrats alike are clamoring for blood, howling for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. President Obama has ordered an internal review of the VA to be completed within a month and has expressed his own sense of outrage over the situation, telling assembled reporters at a White House press conference that he “will not stand for it.”
The American public, wearily accustomed to the perpetual outrage machine that is modern dialogue, rarely puts up a concerted fuss about a single scandal. Fiascos in modern government tend to follow a predictable, politicized pattern – tempers rise on Capitol Hill, startling and salacious details are divulged in a veritable torrent of revelation, frenzied columnists spit out a heated op-ed or ten and life continues apace.
There is, however, a growing sense that the VA debacle may be different than Benghazi, the IRS accusations, or even the hallowed train wrecks that dogged the steps of past administrations. America’s veterans are increasingly viewed as sacred. Long gone are the days when Marines returning Stateside from the steaming jungles of South Asia are met with a barrage of spittle and boiling invective. Today, entire towns turn out bedecked in red, white and blue to meet their returning sons and daughters. “Thank you for your service” has become, in a sense, the mantra of a nation.
The reasons for this are many and varied, and all of them are open to endless analysis. Since Vietnam, America’s faith in its leaders has fallen precipitously. With more than a decade of combat in far-flung locations hanging around the neck of the nation, the war-weary populace has increasingly seen the military as a noble pawn in a nefarious chess match. Soldiers are often viewed as courageous cannon fodder for unbounded political aspirations and imperial overreach. Their sacrifices are to be cherished, their efforts resoundingly appreciated. Witness a nation rife with eagerness to smooth the paths of veterans; a nation that at the very least pays lip service to honoring their service by providing them education, health care, transitional assistance and jobs.
Yet, America’s relationship with its veterans remains dogged by tales of destructive incompetence. Conditions at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Maryland sparked a public outcry in 2007. An outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease at a Pennsylvania hospital in 2011, spurred by an unsanitary environment, killed five veterans and made national headlines. There are countless tales of damaged vets who fall between the cracks of society on their return, drifting rudderless and forgotten among the detritus of America’s cities.
Why do these travesties continue to happen?
The defining images of post-9/11 America are the haunting stills of flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base. Tinged with the age-old scents of glory and honor, soured around the edges by the taste of years of fruitless strife, these pictures remain a monument to supreme sacrifice. This is why the scandal at the VA sears the nation’s conscience so. These men and women deserve so much more. Their betrayal at the hands of the country they served is not easily forgotten and not easily forgiven.
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