Dire reports about the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide adequate care for those who served in this country’s military forces are not just a serious issue for veterans. They are a serious issue for every American who believes the federal government can and must meet the basic commitments necessary to maintain a civil society.
Unfortunately, that seriousness is not reflected in the frenzy of finger-pointing that has developed as a response to “the public’s outrage over excessive wait times and rigged record-keeping at Veterans Affairs hospitals”—an outrage that the president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents caregivers for vets, refers to as “more than justified.”
There is no question that the VA has a problem that must be addressed.
The question is whether the politicians in Washington are ready to address it.
The most predictable of the political careerists, Republican and Democrat, seem to think that firing VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will somehow “fix” things, or that the removal of a few failed managers will suddenly create a functional VA. But that is an absurdly insufficient response.
Depending on what reports regarding the agency reveal, there may well be a place for new leadership and a management shakeup. And those changes might briefly produce a fantasy of action and improvement. But that is all it could be: a fantasy. And a cruel fantasy, at that.
Neither the immediate crisis, nor serious issues relating to the long-term future of the VA, will be settled with a mere reorganization of upper management. The real issues are closer to the ground. The VA needs to have enough doctors, nurses and aides to provide the care that is needed—and the doctors, nurses and aides who are now on duty must have the resources and the flexibility to assure that this care is delivered in a timely and responsible manner.
That is not now the case.
“When we look deeper into this issue of extended wait times for veterans to receive an appointment, we have to recognize that understaffing is a major culprit,” explains AFGE president J. David Cox Sr. “All around the country, medical facilities are understaffed, with numerous frontline care positions going unfilled. How can the VA expect to keep up with the growing needs of our nation’s heroes if it doesn’t properly staff its facilities?”
“According to the Independent Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, developed each year by leading veterans groups, funding levels will remain an estimated $2 billion short in FY 2015 and approximately $500 million short for FY 2016,” the AFGE notes.