Every American scandal has its fall guy, the scapegoat who takes the blame and either resigns in disgrace or is forced out of office. Once that fall guy provides the pound of flesh, usually Americans feel satisfied with the result and move on to other things.
Last Friday, May 30, retired Gen. Eric Shinseki stepped down as Veterans Affairs secretary over the scandal surrounding the Veterans Administration’s (VA) backlog of patients awaiting treatment at VA hospitals across the U.S.
The gravest example comes from the VA hospital in Phoenix, which allegedly altered its waiting list and stalled medical care to hundreds of veterans. According to a report, some patients waited an average of 115 days-five days shy of three full months-for their first primary care appointment with a VA doctor.
This practice is not only unethical and illegal, but it’s lifethreatening. It would be bad enough if it happened to any civilian; it’s doubly appalling that it affects thousands of men and women who put their lives on the line in defense of this country.
Long ago, this nation made a commitment to the all-volunteer Armed Forces that it would provide soldiers with the medical care they need and deserve. These soldiers gave their best years to the government, and the government is morally obligated to give these soldiers the best medical care possible.
Drumbeats about this national shame grew louder in recent weeks, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle began calling for Shinseki to take responsibility and leave office. Surprisingly, one prominent lawmaker-House Speaker John Boehner-sounded a somewhat cautious note on the calls for Shinseki’s head.
“The question I ask myself: Is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on? The answer I keep getting is no,” he stated during a press conference last Thursday, May 29, a day before Shinseki resigned.
Later, Boehner called for President Obama “to step up” and be accountable and responsible for the VA crisis. This is true, but it must be understood that any conciliatory action made by the president short of instituting real solutions to this disgraceful fiasco is an empty gesture.
The solutions are multi-pronged, and require the full attention and support of both the White House and Capitol Hill. First, the VA should be investigated, top to bottom, by the Department of Justice. Those who cooked the books should be fired and, if necessary, prosecuted.
Second, and most importantly, the government should make all investments necessary to upgrade the VA medical system and eliminate any waiting lists. Hire more doctors, build new hospitals, upgrade technology. Until such an expansion is complete, veterans should be provided with financial assistance so they can seek the medical care they need and deserve elsewhere.
No one should dare whine about how the government should pay for this VA overhaul. Our country gives away billions each year in corporate welfare, foreign aid and entitlements; cut some of that pork and give it to those who earned the best care possible.
Everybody likes to say “support our troops.” Now it’s time to mean what we say. Let’s not allow this crisis to persist; let’s fix it now.