This New PBS Doc Offers An Unflinching Look At The Dark History Of The VA

Veterans Benefits
Steeplechase Films

Even in its beginnings, the Department of Veterans Affairs was seeped in wrongdoing. In 1926, just five years after the establishment of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, founding director Col. Charles R. Forbes was convicted of trying to defraud the government. More than 90 years later, the VA remains a government agency wracked in controversy as it tries to balance the treatment of roughly 9 million veterans and stifling government bureaucracy.

The history of the VA and its failures are the focus of VA: The Human Cost of War, a new documentary set to air Nov. 6 on PBS. Directed by Emmy Award-winner Ric Burns, the film delves into the evolving role of the modern VA in its near-century of operations and the services that remain engulfed in systemic dysfunction as the agency struggles to provide much-needed care for millions of veterans across America.

Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, speaks with a patient at the VA hospital in New York City.Steeplechase Films

“The film illustrates the true cost of war through the enormous sacrifices and subsequent neglect of those who serve in our armed forces,” Lois Pope, executive producer of the documentary, said in a statement. “But as we have far too often seen in recent years, there has been an abundance of negligence when it comes to ensuring their care and well-being. This film is meant to raise awareness and create an open, candid dialogue addressing this situation.”

Featuring a wide ensemble of interviews — current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin and his predecessor Robert A. McDonald, VSO leaders and journalists who work to hold department accountable, and the veterans who rely on the VA’s services — the documentary offers an honest, unflinching critique of the institution. But it also recognizes that not all of the VA’s shortcomings are within its control: As the film points out, long-term, overarching improvements require lawmakers to do more in Congress to equip the VA with the tools it needs to succeed, rather than point fingers when things go wrong.

Most importantly, the film elevates the individual stories and experiences of veterans who signed a contract with the U.S. government to protect our country and came home broken and in need of repair. Many of these veterans indeed received life-saving treatment from the VA, which trains roughly 70% of doctors and nurses in the United States and has spearheaded innovative medical solutions to the injuries coming out of America’s wars. But too many are falling through the cracks — and will continue to do so until some drastic changes are put into effect.  

PBS will screen the one-hour documentary Monday at 9 p.m. EST; in the meantime, you can watch a clip below. Tell us in the comments what you think.

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less

Sometimes, even the most well-meaning of tweets can come back to haunt you as a meme.

Read More Show Less
An AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter lands during a combined arms demonstration as part of South Carolina National Guard Air & Ground Expo 2009 at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Oct. 10, 2009. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine)

Welcome to Confessions Of, an occaisional series where Task & Purpose's James Clark solicits hilarious, embarrassing, and revealing stories from troops and vets about their job, billet, or a tour overseas. Are you in an interesting assignment and think you might have something to share? Email with your story.

"Nothing is more powerful than a young boy's wish. Except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns and missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine."

While this Patrick Stewart quote may be from an R-rated movie about a talking teddy bear, it's remarkably accurate. After all, the old warhorse has been kicking ass since it was first adopted by the U.S. Army in the 1980s. Designed to get into trouble fast and put it down even faster, the AH-64 Apache usually comes bristling with ordnance, from an M230 chain gun firing 30mm rounds to Hellfire missiles and rockets.

In the words of Tyler Merritt "it's basically a fucking flying tank."

Read More Show Less
James Jackson, right, confers with his lawyer during a hearing in criminal court, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in New York. Jackson, a white supremacist, pled guilty Wednesday to killing a black man with a sword as part of a racist plot that prosecutors described as a hate crime. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced on Feb. 13. (Associated Press/Bebeto Matthews)

White supremacist James Jackson – accused of trying to start a race war by killing a homeless black man in Times Square with a sword — pleaded guilty Wednesday to murder as an act of terrorism.

Read More Show Less
A soldier plugs his ears during a live fire mission at Yakima Training Center. Photo: Capt. Leslie Reed/U.S. Army

A Texas veteran is suing the company he says knowingly produced and sold defective earplugs which were issued to the U.S. military, leading him and many others to develop hearing problems, including tinnitus.

Read More Show Less