Despite the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a recent article in the Washington Post suggested that “The nation’s leading media outlets may have moved on from covering the many problems that continue to plague the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Perhaps the media has moved on, but U.S. vets are still following the scandal closely, according to a recent Gallup report.
The survey, which was conducted from June 16-20 and sampled some 1,268 U.S. veterans aged 18 or older, found that 51 percent of respondents say they are following allegations of corruption, forged wait lists and widespread mismanagement at the VA “very closely.”
An additional 39 percent of veterans say they are following the scandal “somewhat closely.”
Further, the survey found that 55 percent of U.S. veterans say it is either “very” or “somewhat difficult” to get medical care through the VA.
Why does this even matter? After all, the VA isn’t the first government agency to be riddled with inefficiency, bad decision making and deaths.
It matters because it is an indicator of our government’s commitment to its people who carry out its missions. If the government honors those who serve and they do so with a dedication to excellence, then our ability to recruit for future missions becomes easier. If the perception is the government will pay for your college but you are on your own for fixing the injuries resulting from carrying out the government’s mission, the ability to recruit just become much more difficult.
The Gallup survey reported that “The common perception of most veterans about the difficulty of accessing VA care, many of whom have personally used the VA system, confirms that the department is failing to meet the medical needs of many of those it is designed to serve.”
At present, the VA is much like a warranty on service that is difficult to have honored.
Sally Satel and Michael McLendon of the Boston Globe went on to say that “the focus on VA hospitals obscures a separate but massive problem in the VA’s disability benefits system, whose function should be to treat and rehabilitate veterans to enhance their ability to work. In its disability system, as in its health system, the VA needs to recognize how its philosophy and program design combine in ways that fail to give our veterans the best care. Most veterans, like most people, want to work. The system should focus on what they can do, not on what they can’t.”
Why are veterans wary? Government assurance that the problem will be fixed is yet to materialize. Our veterans have much to offer the civilian sector but many are saddled with not only a tough job market and overcoming a public perception that all veterans are broken, but also with navigating a maze of bureaucratic road blocks and landmines while they rehabilitate and transition. What they do have is “government assurance.”
Bottom line: Here’s what the scandal really highlighted: the flaws and challenges in a single payer system. With our government advocating and deploying a national health care system, those in leadership need to study and understand what is not working in the VA system and what is working in the VA system. Let this VA scandal be an educational opportunity for us all – it’s a shame it is happening on the backs of those who served us valiantly.
— By Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.