Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Long History of VA Problems, Have to Ask, "WHAT TOOK SO LONG" and "WHY NOW"

It’s a typical day at work and I as I sit at my desk reading, the phone rings. I put down the papers I was looking over and pick up the annoying device.


The voice on the other end begins, “I have some bad news” and continues to let me know a friend has passed away. I asked, “What happened?” Then the voice goes into the details and when he finishes, I ask about the details of visitation and the funeral and jotted down the information.

I thanked the caller and hung up. While I filled out my paperwork for a day off, I thought to myself, “This is happening all too often.”

I arrive home at my usual time, fixed something to eat, put the dishes in the sink with the promise I’ll wash before bed, walked to the bedroom and opened the closet. As I looked at the typical contents of a man’s closet, I reached over for one of two garment bags hanging there; both black, one plain, the other with my name below the gold Eagle, Globe and Anchor. I reached for the plain one, brought it out and hung it on the door. As I unzipped it and took out what my Mother would call my “Sunday go to meeting suit”. I looked at it, checked it over knowing full well that it was clean and pressed, already for the next few days.

I glanced back at the closet, unzipped the other bag, looked at my Dress Blues and remembered how proud I was when I wore my first set. I remembered taking the oath “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies…” and being told that in turn for the years I would serve, America has made a pledge to me, that if I served honorably, the America would honor its pledge to other Vets and me. HOW WRONG that pledge has become.

My thoughts were interrupted by some “talking head” and a congress critter ranting about the treatment that veterans weren’t receiving from the Veterans Administration. I looked back at my suit and thought, “Isn’t it typical, Veterans and the active military (Vets will be used to encompass both veterans and active duty military) are just like my “Sunday go to meeting suit”, forgotten about UNTIL needed for a parade or some other special occasion, like when some politician needs us for a background to show “how much they care” about the Vets and Military. Then after being used, the Vets and Military are put back in the closet, just as I and I’d venture many others do, with their good suits, and forgotten about until the next time.

Truthfully, there is another way to describe the way Vets are being treated, it revolves around an old term for a quarter and slang for “a lady of the evening”, but I prefer to keep it family friendly.

Later as I listen to Neil Cavuto and Montel Williams, I thought to myself, “WHY HAS IT TAKEN SO LONG AND WHY NOW?” WHY is the corruption and lack of care at the Veterans Administration suddenly on the front burner? WHY is everyone from critters to “talking heads” to television personalities crying and yelling how deplorable and insulting the treatment for those who served and PROTECTED our country has become.

I continued to listen and Montel begins to get angry and even a little emotional. Montel did bring out some good ideas, NOT necessarily new, mind you, but good.

SPECIAL BULLETIN: I must interrupt this blog for an important disclaimer. I am not nor will not show any disrespect for a brother Marine, NavalOfficer and fellow Marylander. Now, let’s return to our regularly scheduled blog.

I continued to listen and wanted to ask him, “Why are you suddenly speaking out about the VA now, when you must have known that there have been problems with the VA for many, many years?”

I must admit I really didn’t expect him to know about President Harry Truman accepting the resignation of VA Administrator Frank Hines after a series of news reports detailing shoddy care in VA-run hospitals in 1945.

Nor did I expect him to remember that the American Legion sought to oust five star general Omar Bradley from his position as VA Administrator in 1946, because of an ongoing problem with the lack of facilities and the troubles faced by hundreds of thousands of veterans in getting services and a proposal to LIMIT services for combat veterans.

Even though there were other times, such as in 1947 and again 1955 when government commissions uncovered enormous waste, duplication andinadequate care in the VA system and called for wholesale changes in the agency's structure. But, I wouldn’t expect him know about them either.

A few days later, I would once again hear this Montel on Glenn Beck’s radio show and again he made the same good points but again the same questions came to my mind, “WHAT HAS TAKEN SO LONG AND WHY NOW?”

As one who has watched and listened to Glenn Beck, I know that he is very much into history and having a staff to do research, I would have expected Glenn to at least research the problems that have plagued the V.A. in the past, although Glenn does have a selective view of history when it comes to his idol Martin Luther King, Jr.

I fully expected Glenn to bring up that during the 1970’s and 80’s there were problems with the VA like in the 1970’s, Veterans grew increasingly frustrated with the VA for failing to better fund treatment and assistance programs, and later the failure to recognize that exposure to Agent Orange by troops in Vietnam was a cause for numerous medical problems among veterans.

Nor did Glenn or Montel mention that Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, the subject of the book and movie, "Born on the Fourth of July," led a 19-day hunger strike at a federal building in Los Angeles to protest poor treatment of veterans in VA hospitals. He and fellow veterans demand to meet with VA Director Donald Johnson. Johnson would eventually fly to California to meet with the activists, but according to Johnson's 1999 Los Angeles Times obituary, he left when the demonstrators refused to meet in the VA's office in the building. This uproar led to widespread criticism of Johnson. After President Richard Nixon announces an investigation into VA operations, Johnson resigned.

No one even mentions that in 1976, A General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into Denver's VA hospital and the New Orleans' VA hospital found numerous shortcomings in patient care, including veterans whose surgical dressings are rarely changed and found ever-increasing patient loads were contributing to a decline in the quality of care.

How come neither Montel nor Glenn or any other “talking head” mentions anything about Robert Nimmo, a controversial VA director, who once described symptoms of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War as little more than "teenage acne." Nimmo resigned under pressure from veteran's groups because according to a 1983 GAO investigation, he was criticized for wasteful spending, including use of a chauffeured car and an expensive office redecorating project. The agency also issued a report supporting veterans' claims that the VA had failed to provide them with enough information and assistance about Agent Orange exposure.

It seems that everyone from the critters to the T.V. / radio hosts wants to throw more money at the VA, as if that will solve the problem. They seem to forget that in 1984, congressional investigators found evidence that VA officials had diverted or refused to spend more than $40 million that Congress approved to help Vietnam veterans with readjustment problems.

Those same people talk of hiring more doctors are once failing to look at the past, forgetting that in 1986, when the VA's own Inspector General's office found that 93 physicians working for the agency had sanctions against their medical licenses, including suspensions and revocations.

I remembered back in 1989, when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation elevating the Veterans Administration to Cabinet status, thus creating the Department of Veterans Affairs. I and other Vets praised this, hoping that as a cabinet post, things would change within the VA system; how wrong we were!

1991 was a very interesting year: Montel began his seventeen year run as a syndicated talk show host and Sean Hannity was on the radio, while in Chicago there was a report in The Chicago Tribune that doctors at the VA's North Chicago hospital sometimes ignored test results, failed to treat patients in a timely manner and conducted unnecessary surgery. The agency would later take responsibility for the deaths of eight patients, leading to the suspension of most surgery at the center. I am not into talk shows, so I don't know IF Montel or Hannity mentioned anything about this or not. I'm sure if they did and someone has proof, people will let me know.

I wonder, considering Montel was on T.V. and Sean Hannity was on the radio in 1993, whether anything was said about a Washington Post report on VA Deputy Undersecretary of Benefits R.J. Vogel testifying to Congress that there was a growing backlog of appeals from veterans denied benefits due to a federal court established in 1988 to oversee the claims process, Vogel tells the lawmakers, (VA) [sic] is "reeling under this judicial review thing."

In 1999, as the Millennium draws to a close, there is the “great” fear of the Y2K meltdown and the Presidential campaign goes into full swing, The Los Angeles Times reports that the Critters in Washington once again have open an investigation into widespread problems with clinical research procedures at the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center. This investigation followed years of problems at the hospital, including ethical violations by hospital researchers that included failing to get consent from some patients before conducting research involving them.

A new Millennium, a new President and the problems with the VAcontinued and as will be shown in Part 2. The questions STILL REMAIN UNANSWERED, “WHAT TOOK SO LONG?” and “WHY NOW?”


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