At a Senate hearing last week, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki faced a firestorm from Veterans Affairs committee members and from national veteran service organizations over the recent allegations of a national VA scheduling crisis resulting in serious harm and even death of our nation’s veterans.
VA policy states a veteran must receive an appointment within 14 days, however, recent reports across the country and most recently in Phoenix, have found schedulers are booking appointments for patients that do not even exist, zeroing out wait times, and booking multiple patients for the same appointment.
The overarching message coming from committee members and veteran service organizations was “enough is enough” and it’s time for a wake-up call. They and all veterans are frustrated and tired of hearing the same sad stories of veterans not being provided the very best care and the excuses of why no action was taken to address these issues.
According to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), these continued allegations prove it is time for a system wide culture change at the VA where leaders and all employees admit where there are problems. She stated, “We need decisive action; to restore veteran confidence, establish a culture of transparency and accountability, and finally end the practice of intimidation.”
Ryan Gallucci, Legislative Director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, provided some of the most inspiring testimony saying in part, “It’s been a month and we still don’t know all the facts of what vets were delayed care and what vets died waiting for care.” Ryan said, “Vets deserve the truth and not fake promises on quotas, wait times, and investigations. It is the duty of every VA employee to ask for help or step aside.”
Secretary Shinseki has instructed the Director of Veterans Health Administration to conduct a national review of all scheduling compliance and will receive assistance from President Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, Rob Nabors, to oversee the review.
While I applaud Shinseki’s national response, I along with lawmakers and many veteran leaders, are concerned the review is lacking. There has long been a culture of secrecy and intimidation at the VA and it is time to put a stop to this immediately. I truly believe Shinseki when he testified Thursday he is “mad as hell” and is saddened by these troubling allegations. Furthermore, I believe he is the right person to lead the VA through this crisis. His impeccable record speaks for itself and I trust he has the very best interest of our veterans at heart.
That being said, I believe what is required in order to start to bring culture change to the VA is for a national independent review to be conducted at all 150 VA medical centers, the over 800 outreach clinics, and 300 vet clinics nationwide in order to fully understand the issues and challenges.
Furthermore, this independent review should highlight any facility directors, senior level managers, or employees at any level that have either directly violated VA policy or contributed to a culture in which employees feel intimidated to go against VA policy.
I understand some will argue a national independent review of that size brings with it a large expense to American taxpayers, but let’s think about what we are asking for. Is it not the duty and responsibility of our country to fully support our veterans who sacrificed blood, sweat, tears, and even death in the defense of freedom?
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who understands first-hand the sacrifices our nation’s heroes face, commented, “How we care of those who risk everything for us is the most important test of a nation’s character.”
I think I speak for all veterans in saying the oath we took to support and defend this nation against all enemies we took with pride, responsibility, and duty. The duty to fight for the very freedoms all Americans hold true to their heart. Our history as a nation is comprised of heroic stories and tales of veterans from all wars who gave everything to allow you and me to live free today.
We don’t require medals, awards, or pats on the back. All any of us ask is for our country that we love and fought for to fulfill their duty and promise to us when we return. The promise as a nation that you have our backs just as we had the backs of those we served with. The promise to provide sufficient medical care for any and all injuries sustained in battle. The promise of our community to be there for us when we come home.
It’s time for every single American to take personal responsibility to ensure veterans in our communities receive the support and opportunities we would want for ourselves and for our own families. I call on all Americans to reach out to their elected officials and voice their frustrations and concerns on the care of veterans in our country. It is true we have failed and at times failed miserably as a nation in the past to fully support our veterans, however, today we have the opportunity to right those wrongs.
We have the opportunity to create a culture at the VA that is centered around the care of the veteran and not on metrics. A culture of trust, transparency, and accountability. A culture all veterans deserve.
Brian Hall served nine years in the U.S. Air Force and currently works as a Financial Analyst in New York City.