McCain Goes Maverick With The Truth Again!

Having worked with two US Senators on behalf of a friend who had been denied military benefits after being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, I know how responsive most senators are with regard to veterans’ issues. That’s why it is particularly puzzling that a senator, who is a veteran himself, would not know that the VA hospital located within sight of his office was falsifying wait times.

Did Sen. McCain not receive complaints from his constituents? I find that exceedingly difficult to believe, especially when it is alleged that 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments. Why did McCain not respond to a detailed letter from the doctor who became a whistleblower? One of his staff members acknowledged receipt of the letter, but McCain did nothing. Then, when the excrement hit the rotating air movement device, McCain demanded answers. He called for investigations. He demanded the resignation of General Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Given the circumstances and his almost certain knowledge of the problems, McCain should have offered his own resignation. That would have been more appropriate than the resignation of Shinseki.

Now McCain is outraged…OUTRAGED…over the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl. He says that these are “the five most dangerous people on the planet,” and that their release will almost certainly cause the deaths of more Americans. I remember no such outrage when the Bush administration released al-Qaeda members from Gitmo…30 percent of whom re-entered the fight against the US. What I do remember is that Teapublican senators and congressmen have long accused the Obama administration of dragging its collective feet in negotiating for Bergdahl’s release.

I also remember that the US paid a high price to have McCain and other prisoners of war released from Vietnam. And, as for allegations of Bergdahl’s desertion, we should all leave that up to our military leaders. But I do recall allegations that McCain was shot down over Vietnam as a result of disobeying his orders.

More and more, it seems that McCain has become an angry old man who has lost touch with reality. He once earned a reputation as a maverick for working across the aisle in order to serve his country. Now it seems that he is content to play along with the highly partisan leadership of the Republican Party. He has excelled at making immigrants scapegoats for our economic problems. He has embraced the anger and divisiveness of Tea Party politics. He is living up to his childhood nickname…McNasty. And when it comes to the truth…lets just say that, for McCain, it has become an increasingly long distance relationship.

What Next For VA?

Now that Gen. Eric Shinseki has resigned as Secretary of Veterans Affairs under pressure from the crass reactionaries and the weak-minded in Congress, what’s next? Shinseki had been charged with taking over an already flawed and expanding system. He dramatically reduced the wait time for those in line for VA benefits. He helped many homeless veterans get off the streets. He replaced a cumbersome and antiquated system that relied on paper with a modern computer system. And he pushed and incentified hospital managers to cut wait times for medical appointments.

Unfortunately, he was deceived by those who falsified records in order to make themselves look good and receive bonuses. He was never given a chance to weed out those white collar criminals and bring them to justice. And he was not given the time needed to fix the system by those who would rather gain political leverage than tell the truth and serve the public.

So let’s look at the reality of the VA medical system. First, it should be understood that the VA was originally created to serve veterans who had suffered combat wounds and service-related medical issues. It was never intended to provide a lifetime of free medical care to anyone who ever wore a uniform.

Second, the number of veterans seeking free health care from the system has grown dramatically. As Vietnam veterans have aged, they have placed ever greater demands on the system, especially those who were exposed to Agent Orange. So, too, have the veterans of Desert Storm with Gulf War Syndrome. And those who served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are already flooding the system. Many of these soldiers have returned with severe medical issues, such as PTSD, severe head trauma and worse.

Third, even though the annual budget for the VA medical system has steadily grown, it has not kept up with demand. As a result, many VA hospitals have been woefully understaffed and their workers underpaid. Just recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill intended to give the VA an additional $21 billion to meet its needs. But GOP senators objected to the way the bill was to be funded – by using funds leftover from the Iraq War. GOP senators also decided to play election year politics by trying to add an amendment that would have forced the Obama administration to increase economic sanctions on Iran, even though such a measure would derail current negotiations over the future of the Iran nuclear program. When Democratic leadership refused to allow the amendment, the GOP blocked Sanders’ bill with a filibuster.

I will admit that the GOP did have one valid point with regard to the bill. They objected to further expansion of the VA which would have given even more veterans without service-related conditions access to the system.

So what now?

First and foremost, the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs will need the funds to fill the vacuum of primary care physicians throughout the system. The VA hospital in Phoenix which experienced the most severe delays currently has 400 openings to fill. (You read that right…400!) At the same time, the new Secretary should file fraud charges against the hospital directors who scammed the system, claw back the undeserved bonuses and find replacements for them.

Finally, Congress will need to stop playing the blame game and interrupt election year politics long enough to pass an adequate funding bill. It should also examine the eligibility requirements for VA medical care. All veterans should not be treated equal. Under the current system, taxpayers cannot afford to give all veterans free medical care for life…with or without vouchers. The system should be limited to combat veterans and those with service-related medical conditions. Until this country comes to its senses and creates a universal health care system for all of its citizens and negotiates the cost of care, many veterans can be served through Medicare, Medicaid and private facilities…especially non-combat veterans who can afford private insurance.