The Widdershins

Remain Calm, Etc: The Scandal du Jour

Posted on: May 22, 2014

Good Thursday, Widdershins.  This will be a mercifully brief post again, as life continues to dehydrate my creative juices.

What’s a poor Congress to do?  The House has just barely assembled its latest panel to investigate Benghazi, and now we have the VA mess to investigate.  Calls for Richard Shinseki’s head are reverberating through our hallowed halls, and I’m certain that the House members will find a way to toast the retired general over an open fire while still finding time to probe the lifeless form of Benghazi once more for the road.

I feel rather sorry for General Shinseki.  He is from Japan, of Japanese parents, and a Boy Scout.  He graduated from West Point, served honorably from Vietnam forward, and is the highest ranking Asian-American officer in our history.  He has rankled his fair share of people during his years of service, not the least of which was SOD Donald Rumsfeld and his acolyte Paul Wolfowitz..  Shinseki was Army Chief of Staff at the time of the Iraq invasion, and calculated that he would require several hundred thousand soldiers for an occupation force.  The Department of Defense was horrified, and the General was pretty well shelved thereafter.   Despite the fact that Rumsfeld was a Navy pilot who never saw combat and Wolfowitz never saw any military service, they overruled a man with four decades of experience in military maneuvers.  Sadly, even I can figure out that it will take many more people to hold a position that it did to take it, as one loses the element of surprise.

After leaving the service, Shinseki held a number of executive positions until named to head up the VA in 2008.  Now, suddenly, someone has noticed that the VA is a complete mess, and somehow it’s all the General’s fault.  While I agree that there is always a degree of executive culpability, I fear that the wrath of the House may be mostly displacement.  The VA seemed to get along pretty well until the 1960’s, caring for WWII and Korean War veterans.  Then came Vietnam, and matters bogged down.  Because of field hospitals, soldiers were surviving wounds that would have previously been mortal, and the VA was never expanded to accommodate the increased numbers.   Further, the VA denied vehemently any connection between Vietnam service and Agent Orange effects and the whole problem of PTSD.  Things devolved slowly over the next four decades, with occasional infusions of patients from actions in Grenada, Desert Storm, and the like.    At no time do I recall any cash boluses or expansion of services to our veterans, and this is where we find ourselves today.

For the past decade, we have had grievously wounded soldiers returning from the Middle East.  Soldiers with missing limbs, soldiers with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, soldiers with nowhere to go.  Families are struggling to care for these unfortunate warriors with limited cash and even more limited training and/or follow-up.  It’s disgusting, at best, but none of this is really new.  The VA system has been bogged down for at least 40 years.

Consider Walter Reed Hospital.  The facility was built in 1909, and closed in 2011.  From 2007 forward there were ongoing horror stories about the pathetic conditions, and the previous commander was forced out.The Department of Defense had long been considering a merger with Bethesda Naval Hospital, but instead Bethesda was closed and Walter Reef moved in and expanded.   Now, Bethesda was a first class facility, and managed to handle its patient load with some reasonable degree of efficiency.  Granted, Navy casualties are uncommon, but the Marines are treated by the Navy, and the Corps has taken a beating during recent years.  I understand from a friend that any number of the buildings at Reed are as yet unopened, whether due to lack of staff or lack of funding I do not know.  I do know that the VA hospitals and clinics in Miami and Palm Beach are always advertising for staff, and I’m fairly certain that not much will go well until such time as more staff and space become available,  The current bottleneck is so bad that patients are waiting up to a year to enter the system.  While efficiency may be a contributing factor, time, space, and staffing are needed for efficient service.  I’m not surprised that people are dying while  they wait for care.  It happens every day in the civilian population as well.  This is the United States that we have, not the one that we want.

Let’s all get a grip – you get what you pay for.  If large volumes of well-directed cash do not  begin to flow through the VA system, things will never change.  If large numbers of medical professionals of all stripes do not begin to work in the system, it can’t get better.  I would strongly suggest that Congress cease redundant committee activities and allocate the funds to get this mess cleaned up sooner rather than later.  Perhaps they might consider some degree of student loan forgiveness for medical professionals who work in the VA system.  It will not improve on its own, and blaming the current head of the VA is not the answer.

This is an open thread.







12 Responses to "Remain Calm, Etc: The Scandal du Jour"

It’s really disgraceful how we treat our veterans. And I place the blame squarely on Congress. They need to look in the mirror and how they fund all the veteran departments before they start blaming anyone else.

Amen. This may not have been avoidable, but it may well have been mitigated.

If I understand the underlying reason for the problem, it was the continued idiocy of trying to bring private sector practices into the public sector. The whole mess revolves around a simple incentive program and the administrators have circumvented it in order to carry appointments “off the books.” There are so many problems with the VA, trying to further burden it with turning a pure public function into a hybrid private process should be far down on the list.

Public/private combos do not often meet with rousing success.

Chat, excellent post, I also have felt some sympathy for Shinseki. What a thankless job. I think Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al ignored every thinking person in the military in their mad haste to start their phony wars and get super rich off of it. Hope that makes sense. I’m fading out here.

btw, lakerwade did his big research essay on the VA and the problem of current vets (Afghanistan & Iraq) not being able to get treatment. Not only did he get an A, the prof asked if she can use it as an example essay for future classes! We are so proud of him. He got straight As this semester.

We are watching Stewart/Colbert and a commercial just came on with Ron Reagan Jr talking about some organization for atheists and their goal to keep religion out of government. It was so bizarre, I felt like I was watching one of those fake SNL commercials.

I knew Ron & Pattie back in the 80s and neither of them agreed with their Dads politics back then anyway. Don’t know much about them now.

Prolix, brilliant comment. This is so true, in so many different areas of govt. The republicans have been trying to privatize the govt for decades and it has had some bad results. That idiot Arnold caused us a lot of trouble when he was governor, wanting to privatize everything. My husband, who works for LAUSD had to put up with a lot of crap from these companies. They cost taxpayers a fortune and made things worse. Eventually, they were outed by the L.A. media and were fired.

Oooh, the commercial is on again. The Freedom From Religion Foundation. He ends it saying he is a lifelong atheist and not afraid to burn in hell! I agree with him, but the commercial is bizarre. I will try to find it.

Oops. Sorry for the long url. Feel free to remove it.

Hey Annie! I had emailed chat and told her I was around just a short time today./yesterday. We were having internet problems in the area. Would be working fine and then just d.o.a. for awhile and then back up. I gave up trying after awhile because I was wanting to throw things! 😆

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