Friday, May 30, 2014

The VA Scandal, More Of The Same

I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
     - Captain Louis Renault, Vichy Official, Casablanca


Addendum and update at the end of the essay // Jim



On this Memorial Day weekend, you may, if you like, picture me making the “I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!” face.

So there’s chicanery and malfeasance in the Veterans Administration, is there?

The VA hospital in Phoenix diddled the books, did they?

Administrators shuffled ailing vets into secret waiting lists, delaying medical treatment for months, maybe years, in order to pump up the hospital’s stats and make it look like they were meeting the goals established by President Obama for prompt service.

Veterans, some forty and maybe more, died while awaiting treatment – whether or not any of the deaths can be directly linked to deferred access is still undetermined.

And now it’s emerging that this practice of secret lists and deliberately delayed care might be far more widespread within the Department of Veterans Affairs than just the Phoenix hospital.

Outrageous, isn’t it?

I mean, you’re outraged, right? Well of course you are.

The country is outraged in patriotic indignation. This is bullshit! We should treat our heroes better than that!

Congress is outraged, oh boy are they ever, and they’re going to get to the bottom of it, you bet!

The President is outraged, and by God heads are going to roll! Sure they will!

Don’t worry, Veterans, things are gonna change! America won’t stand for this injustice!

Heh heh.

That’s great, Folks. Really. Thanks for dropping by, thanks for coming, drive safely, and, please, don’t forget to take your outrage with you – we veterans have plenty of our own and frankly I don’t need any extra.


No, really, thanks for the fierce indignation, America. We appreciate it, we surely do, but you’re more than a few decades late.


This is nothing new.

This kind of bureaucratic flimflam when it comes to taking care of veterans? It’s been going on for years, for decades, from one war to the next and all the timeless space in between. And it’s not confined to the Veterans Administration.

It’s been happening in Phoenix and San Diego and New York City and New Orleans and Biloxi and Anchorage and Washington D.C. and from sea to shining sea. 

This latest thing? The appalling revelation that the Phoenix VA was cooking the books in order to meet impossible deadlines and levels of throughput? That administrators were hiding unacceptable delays in service and care in order to get themselves monetary bonuses and to pad their resumes? The fact that veterans died waiting for the care they faithfully earned and rightfully deserve? Yeah. That’s not outrage you see on our faces, and it sure isn’t surprise, it’s amused resignation.

We’re used to it.

We’re used to being disposable assets.

We’re used to being left to die by bureaucrats and politicians and the American public.

We’re used to being forgotten when the nation doesn’t need us anymore.

Oh, please, don’t bother. I’m not looking for sympathy or any more feigned outrage, I’ve had plenty.

And you certainly don’t have to take my word for it, ask any veteran.  Ask your fathers and grandfathers why when they returned from Korea and Vietnam and The Gulf and took off their uniforms they didn’t even bother with the VA unless they had no other choice. You think this is something new? Go on, ask ‘em, I’ll wait.

And now?

Now after more than a decade of war, after many decades of endless lines and endless bean-counters and endless delays and endless waits and endless lost records and the endlessly misplaced paperwork and the endless institutionalized incompetence and the endless excuses and the endless unending VA shuffle, now you’re upset? 

After five years of an intransigent, deadlocked, do-nothing Congress who’d rather chase hysterical manufactured conspiracies and beat their fleshy chests in faux-patriotic fever, who’ll enthusiastically fork over hundreds of billions for fancy new jets and ships and tanks so long as that hardware is manufactured in their own districts, who drive past homeless needy vets every single day, and gleefully refuse to pass a veterans jobs bill or to fully fund veterans services in their own districts or any other, after five years of this capering self-serving congressional bullshit, now you’re pissed off?

Now you want blood?

Now you want an accounting?


By all means, go ahead, America, knock yourself out. That’s great, it really is. 

Forgive me though if I don’t hold my breath.

Here’s the thing: speaking from personal experience, the truly ironic part here is that the VA of today, the VA under Eric Shinseki and Barack Obama, is orders of magnitude better than it has ever been.

Ever. Under any administration.

Over the last five years, things have steadily improved. They’re a long way from perfect but they’re a long long way from what they were when this war began thirteen years ago. Most of the peeling paint and the mildew and the banal uninterested bureaucracy is gone, not all but most of it. 

It took more than seven months for me to get enrolled in the system after I retired from the Navy despite having started the process six month before I punched out.  It took a friend of mine nearly two years, and I know plenty of fellow vets who’ve waited as long or longer. And it’s damned frustrating. That said, every single VA employee, every one from the coffee shop barista in the lobby to the various administrators and clerks and bean counters to the numerous doctors that I’ve dealt with since my retirement in 2007 have been polite, professional, respectful, attentive, and as helpful as is humanly possible in such a massive and overworked organization.

The times to get an appointment have often been long, but the system is saturated and there are plenty of my brothers and sisters in arms far worse off than me, I didn’t mind the delay – but then I’m not dying, it only feels like I am most of the time.

Ten years ago, my father, a Korean War Navyman who had contemptuously avoided the VA for five decades was finally convinced to take his discharge papers and see what the VA could do for an old vet with terminal COPD. And they did wonders. They restored his hearing with state of the art hearing-aids, they outfitted him with oxygen and a mobility scooter and a powered chair-lift up the stairs of my parent’s old farmhouse. The VA treated my dad with dignity and respect and kindness and they gave him a decade with a significantly improved quality of life – something he never would have had otherwise. 

The VA of today is vastly better than it has ever been. And that is a provable fact.

Now, certainly that doesn’t excuse malfeasance in the administration of Phoenix’s VA Hospital, but the thousands of hardworking dedicated members of the VA who show up every single day and give one hundred percent of themselves over to caring for veterans – some under the most heartbreaking of circumstance – shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

But, of course, they will be, because most Americans are too lazy and too uninformed and too uninterested to gather actual facts or speak to actual veterans or be bothered to actually think.  They’re told to be outraged, and so they are – and they don’t care why, it’s just another reason to hate the president and the government and the people on the other side of the political spectrum and that’s good enough.

The simple truth of the matter is that if America actually cared about its veterans, cared enough to do more than slap a yellow ribbon magnet on the back of their SUVs and feign outrage on command, well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?

No, I’m actually not bitter, not at all.  Why would I be? I come from a military family, I knew what I was getting into, and after two and a half decades of military service my expectations aren’t particularly high to begin with.  I wish it was better, but it could certainly be worse – and has been.

Let me read the tea leaves here:

Nothing will change.

We’ll rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, polish a few turds, round up the usual suspects, and nothing will change.

Oh, sure, a couple VA administrators will suddenly find other jobs, that’s a given.

And Eric Shinseki’s days are certainly numbered, pretty soon he’ll be down at the VFW having a desultory beer with Colin Powell and amusedly ruminating on how jungle warfare was easier, and safer, for an old soldier than serving in a cabinet position. At least when you were knee-deep in a Southeast Asian rice paddy you knew who the enemy was and they were only trying to kill you – not to mention the communist Vietcong were a more intelligent, forthright, honorable, and downright likable enemy than the US Congress.

I read Representative Tammy Duckworth’s opinion about Eric Shinseki’s management of the VA. I tend to respect Duckworth a great deal, for her service and for her outspoken take-no-prisoners honesty and intelligence. She’s one of the few people in Congress that I do respect.  If anybody – if anybody – is an expert on every facet of the service provided by the VA, it’s Tammy Duckworth, she’s not only a decorated veteran, still on active duty in the reserves despite the loss of both her legs in active combat, and a daily user of her VA hospital, but she also served under Shinseki as a Deputy Secretary for Veterans Affairs. The woman knows what she’s talking about, in great exacting detail, and you should take the time to read the interview linked to above. Duckworth thinks Shinseki should stay on. I respect her opinion, sincerely, and I agree with her reasoning. I’ll go her one further and say that I think public officials should be required to clean up their messes before being allowed to quit.

But somebody has to be the scapegoat in this affair and history says that’s going to be Eric Shinseki.

Speaking of Congress, the House and Senate will puff up like big warty toads, they’ll bloviate and pontificate and croak out self-righteous indignation. Ribbit, ribbit. They’ll wax fat and fecund and shed salty crocodile tears for our poor poor American heroes. They’ll pound their mighty chests and wave the flag and rage on about patriotism – and then they’ll go back to their offices, bad mouth Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Duckworth under their collective breath, and vote yet again to cut funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans’ healthcare and mental health programs, veterans’ jobs programs, and homeless veteran initiatives right along with active duty military pay and benefits.  The war is over and they don’t need us anymore.

And once they manage to kick Eric Shinseki out of office, they’ll spend months dragging their feet and blocking the President’s nominee for a new secretary in order to score a few political points with their base. Then they’ll grin at each other and cash the lobbyists’ checks and act like they’ve actually done something to improve things.

Ask yourself something, if Congress really cared about veterans, I mean if they were really as concerned as they purport to be, then why was this brought to the public’s attention via a half-assed tabloid news outfit like CNN instead of the House Armed Services Committee? How come they didn’t know? How come it wasn’t veteran senator John McCain, since this happened in his district? When was the last time Arizona Senator Jeff Flake checked his email? Arizona has nine Representatives in their House delegation, four republicans and five democrats, so where were they? Veterans in Arizona have been complaining to them for years about these problems. I guess they were too busy with Benghazi and birth certificates and the definition of marriage and shutting down the government to notice.

The GOP is already licking its lips and squealing happily in orgasmic glee. At last, at long, long last they’ve got themselves an actual, no fooling, authentic scandal that they can hang around Obama’s neck and ride into November and maybe beyond if they can just find a way to couple it to Hillary Clinton, and they will. Hooray! They don’t care so much for the plight of veterans as much as they can’t wait to milk this sucker for all the political cream they can get. 

Senate Democrats are in defensive posture, no doubt they’ll be blaming Bush any minute now, hoping desperately that nobody notices that they’re just as culpable for the lack of funding and oversight. Just like their conservative counterparts, their real concern is how this will affect their chances at the polls come November.

And, of course, President Obama will take his lumps, as he must. He’s the Commander in Chief, the VA is part of the Executive Branch, and this happened on his watch. He is ultimately responsible even though this is nothing new, and even though the VA has vastly improved under his administration, and even though nothing will really change. Everything the President, and especially the First Lady, have done to improve the lot of veterans will be drowned in a flood of political theater as his enemies turn up their collective lip in sneering contempt and shout, “See? See? That stinking liberal Obama doesn’t care about our heroes! Told ya!”

And nothing will change.

That’s the sad, simple truth of the matter right there: nothing will change.

Nothing will change because the America people don’t give enough of a damn to actually do something about it. The war is over, they don’t need us anymore. They’ve been walking past veterans for years, decades, hell, centuries. They wave the flag on Memorial Day and Veterans Day and slap a $5 made in China magnet on the back of their cars and call it good. And they’re more interested in blame than they are in correcting the problem.

The problem isn’t Barack Obama.

The problem isn’t George W. Bush.

The problem isn’t Eric Shinseki, or whoever takes the fall for this.

The problem is systemic and a symptom of a much larger malaise.

The problem is an ineffective deadlocked Congress who’ve abdicated their actual constitutional responsibilities and oversight for conspiracy theories and witch hunts, hysteria mongering and political theater.  If these people had put but one tenth of their efforts into responding to their veteran constituents as they did chasing after blowjobs and Benghazi, if they would have allocated but a hundredth of the funds to veterans affairs as they wasted on cancelled weapons programs and pork barrel projects, if they had put half the effort into creating jobs for veterans as they did into protecting those who continue to liquidate American businesses and ship American jobs overseas, well then veterans wouldn’t be dying while waiting for treatment.

This weekend is Memorial Day, a day we Americans set aside to remember those who died in uniform while serving their country. There will be speeches and parades and wreaths will be laid upon the cold white granite.  Politicians, one by one, will take this opportunity to solemnly rail against the outrageous treatment of our veterans, with a sly wink and a nod towards November – and 2016 – using us just one more time.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of living veterans stand in line.


And it turns out that I’m not really surprised at all.

Realizing the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects!
  - Captain Louis Renault


Addendum 5/30/14: Reprinted from my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/stonekettle)


And there it is.

Both sides of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, screamed and hollered and stomped their feet in feigned self-righteous indignation and got Shinseki to resign.

And so Shinseki did.

Yah! Wohoo! Hooray!

Exactly as I predicted here – not that it took any actual prescient powers or anything. Politicians are nothing if not predictable.

And now congress can claim they actually did something.

You know, without actually doing a goddamned thing.

There was no actual investigation - we've investigated Benghazi how many times now? Congress is all outraged over the deaths of four Americans in a war zone (one of which was a liberal ambassador and personal friend of Obama. And now you know how to get the GOP to care about Americans, all you have to do is kill them first. It’s pretty much exactly the same as their stance on abortion. Though on second thought, it doesn’t work for gun violence. You pays your money and you takes your chances, I guess). Meanwhile countless American Vets have died waiting for care in their own hospitals and not even a committee level review from Congress. Nothing.

There’s been no congressional review of procedure. No revision of process. No change in regulation. No realignment of VA staff, hell, the director of the Phoenix VA Hospital where this all started is still out on paid leave. Congress hasn’t expanded veterans services. No increase in funding. No attempt to address the real problem, the systemic problems of an overburdened and inefficient system designed to care for senior administrators and not the veterans it’s actually supposed to help. None of the problems identified in the Inspector Generals report have been taken up by a Congress more concerned with election year grandstanding than those who fought and bled in conflicts Congress sent them into, ill equipped and ill prepared by that self-same Congress.

Instead, they got rid of Shinseki. That'll fix it!

And they cut the head off the organization just when it needed leadership the most. And now they'll spend the next two months delaying confirmation of his replacement and preening for the cameras and making election year hay from the dimwitted masses.

Not only did Congress not listen to veterans regarding veteran’s issues, members of congress who've never worn a uniform told veterans to fuck right off – but in retrospect you shouldn’t be surprised, given that this is the same outfit who holds committee hearings on women’s health … and bans women from the proceedings.

But, yay, they did something and it didn't cost America a single penny. Congratulations. Well done, bonuses and reelections all around.

And now America can get back to the usual business of waving the flag and pretending to give a shit.

See ya on Veterans Day, fellas!

Addendum 2:

Well, well, well, I must have pushed somebody's button.

This article is seeing a sudden and massive number of page hits from Department of Veterans Affairs, US House of Representatives, and US Senate servers. Be interesting to see if my next VA appointment gets cancelled, won't it?

I note that not one of you congressmen or senators, or your staff as the case may be, have the guts to weigh in. Thanks for the form letters though, as institutional indifference goes, that’s a nice touch.

Ah, hell, you know, in retrospect, maybe I am a little bitter after all.


  1. And the beat goes on, yes indeed. I'm going to link to it on my facebook page because some people need to see it, but you're right when you say that nothing will really change. Thanks for writing it though.

    For what it's worth, two typos: About halfway down, "But, of course, they will be, because most Americans are too lazy and too UNIFORMED and too uninterested to gather actual facts ... " should of course be uninformed.

    And the last full paragraph has an extra 'is' in it. Send it to Bill Clinton is what I would do ...

    1. Please do not correct Jim's typos. This is a magnificent piece of writing and he certainly does not need the class monitor correcting his paper. That is just rude.

    2. Please do not correct Jim's typos. This is a magnificent piece of writing and he certainly does not need the class monitor correcting his paper. That is just rude.

    3. Actually, the going opinion around here is that catching typos is one of the perks of being a Stonekettle Minion. For reference, the full list of benefits is:
      1) Spitting on the mat
      2) Catching typos
      3) Calling the cat a bastard.

    4. Nope sorry. My opinion is that when you write as well and powerfully as Jim then you can can correct his typos. It is simply a bad case if red penitis. I work for lawyers whose lives are to amend. It annoys the crap out of me and detracts from the conversation. Who spits on anything and it is certainly not the cat's fault his parents were not married. No need to call him out on it.

    5. Unknown - you must be new. Jim generally thanks those who police his writing & offer corrections. Cuz, y'know, he's a class act.

      Or it could be that he is compiling a list, so that when he becomes the Ultimate Emperor of the Universe, some of us can expect a midnight knock on the door...


    6. I don't mind people pointing out the typos so long as they're trying to improve the product. Hey, free proofreading, why would I mind that? Plus, it lets me know that people are actually reading what I wrote - and since I consider every single word that I use, even the swear words, that means something to me. If what I write is going to get shared around the internet, I like it to be the best product I can produce, and if readers want to help make it better, that's fine by me.

      The only time I mind people pointing out errors is when they do it maliciously, Ah HAH! You made a typo, that proves your entire essay is wrong, in fact it means everything you've ever written is wrong wrong wrong, you are an unAmerican homo-lovin' dirty commie who hates Jesus! I knew it! I knew it! That kind of shit gets on my nerves - and it happens here. Readers helping to correct errors, grammatical and factual, go a long way towards putting a lid on that kind of trollage.

      It's also one of the reasons I deliberately cultivate educated, intelligent, and thoughtful commenters. I like smart people.

    7. Actually, I had an idea I haven't gotten around to mentioning: Jim, you should just automatically enter the first comment yourself on every essay, to the effect of "Dear Minions, Please leave your typos *here* and I'll check back periodically. Typos left 112 comments further down cannot be guaranteed to be attended to promptly. Thank you for your cooperation." See, that way you can always find and fix them quickly and you also don't get the same typo pointed out 17 times, when a reader can't get through all comments in one swoop, because *everybody* know where to check first. Good idea? :) You're welcome.

    8. Fuck. There's a typo in that.............

  2. Not much has changed since Rudyard Kipling's time. Familiar with his "Tommy?"

    "You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
    We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
    But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!"

    1. Ha! Beat me to it; I had exactly the same thought as I was reading the article. Some things just don't seem to change, do they?

    2. I've had "Tommy" pinned on my bulletin board for ages now. It needs wider distribution. Maybe it should be pinned, with a long, sharp pin, on the chest of every congresscritter.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. My Father was a great fan of Kipling, and I also grew up in the village where he lived for many years, the ever lovely village of Rottingdean.
      The day I came home and told him that I was thinking of joining The Army, he read me "Tommy". Unfortunately as true today, as when it was written, over a century ago.
      Here is a link to the full text.

  3. My WWII vet grandfather avoided the VA, much like your father did, for decades, because he had benefits from his civilian job and didn't feel the need to access services there when he had access to the care he needed "on the economy." When he did finally avail himself, they worked wonders for him, oftentimes in a more timely and more empathic manner than did many of his civilian providers, who, in their defense, served him on the whim of third-party bureaucrats with bottom lines to be considered above all else.

  4. You did indeed make this Navy Vet wife cry. Thank you for saying this.

  5. Thanks Jim for another slap-you-in-the-face dose of truth. I wish your posts were required reading for every red-blooded so and so fortunate enough to call themselves Americans.

  6. my brother first served in the Marines during the Vietnam war & messed his back up so badly that he had to have several discs fused. When time to re-up came, the Marines said no but the Navy took him because he had a set of skills that was in short supply...he finally got to the point where the remaining discs had to be fused and with that, he was given a medical discharge and awaited his disability rating from the VA...and waited...and waited...and waited. Meanwhile, he tried other jobs to support himself even though he was always in pain but thought the VA would come through for him. 20 or so years later, he finally received his rating of 100% disabled. Better late than never. Yeah, right.

  7. I'm 95% satisfied with the care I get from my local VA clinic and regional medical center (Bay Pines, in St. Petersburg, FL). That's better than my 70% satisfaction rate with local civilian doctors. And I'd like to point out that the VA serves *millions* of veterans, and I suspect their bleepup rate is, at worst, no higher than the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Kaiser or other major health care providers. Note that the concern behind this scandal is over a few hundred vets who've had problems. Hundreds out of millions. I can handle that.

    1. I suspect you are exactly right about the bleepup rate. I worked as an RN at Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, and Mt. Sinai in Manhattan. I won't mention specifics, but I saw some "bleepups" that made me cringe, not just as a nurse, but as a human being. These places have fancy reputations, but every employee is a unique human being with flaws.

  8. Mr. Wright, when are you going to get the requisite lobotomy and run for office? Please? I'll send money, wash dishes, answer phones, organize rallies, register voters, hide bodies, hack voting machines, clean up the shop and drive the getaway car. Even if you had half the wits you now have, you'd have an order of magnitude more than the current half-wits, and could chuck more wood than most woodchucks. Most of those dishonorable bastards have no idea what their actual job is, and are under the mistaken impression that winning an election is comparable to winning a lottery, and act accordingly. I'd love to see Yon Doung retire to obscurity, for example.

    Around 400,000 of my closest friends and I would like to be your sidekicks when you come to power.

    1. As Jim has so eloquently written before, it is the fault of the uncaring, unthinking, and so-called "electorate" who are supposed to be in charge. Do not blame the politicos as much as those who put them there or allowed them to stay.
      Cassius: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
      But in ourselves...."
      Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

    2. 'too uniformed' works also

    3. "Do not blame the politicos as much as those who put them there or allowed them to stay."

      Excuse me -- no. Put a lot of blame on those who spew an unending stream of propaganda against the government, and who glory in creating gridlock, and who are fiercely opposed to the smooth functioning of vital services, all in the name of lower taxes.
      Put a lot of blame on those who make their living by frightening the less-educated into believing that they're in terrible danger unless they vote for the gridlockers and anti-gov'ters.
      Put a lot of blame on those who were hired -- I mean, financed -- by the greedy ultra-rich, and who do not care what happens to anyone else in this world. And yes, money makes a big difference. $35,000,000 vs $1,800,000 -- who do YOU think won the election?

      "Enrich the rich, comfort the comfortable, and afflict the afflicted" is not a viable long-term philosophy, but it's what we've ended up with, thanks to those tactics.

    4. "Put a lot of blame on those who were hired -- I mean, financed -- by the greedy ultra-rich, and who do not care what happens to anyone else in this world. "

      I believe the word you were looking for is "bought" by the corporate oligarchy and ultra-rich.

  9. Jean Lartéguy was a French writer, journalist, and former soldier.

    He wrote, "I'd like to have two armies: one for display with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their General's bowel movements or their Colonel's piles, an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country."

    This is the one the religious fundamentalists and Congress fawn over.

    "The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display, but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That's the army in which I should like to fight."

    This is the one few know about and fewer want to acknowledge but who do the dirty and largely unglamorous work required of warriors.

    A buddy of mine who retired from the British SAS and I were talking over "the old days" and I asked him how vets get health care in the UK. They have a National Health Service and vets and non-vets alike get treatment. He had no kick against them, said he was always treated well.

    The mark of a great nation is how well it takes care of its people.

    December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine
    "These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."

    1. I learn something here every time I show up. Thanks.

  10. The sarcasm is strong with this one. The anger is painfully strong. Thank you.

  11. John Stewart did a great bit about the history of our veterans getting screwed. If we could get "our" congressman to watch Jon and read Jim they might start seeing what kind of ass-holery they are spewing.

  12. I am not a vet nor a vet's wife. Heck I am not even American. But this took me beyond crying. It tore out my heart and stomped it to death on the floor. I want to thank all those who are so much braver or crazier than me. Who do what I don't have the guts to do.

  13. A fellow vet (1st Armored Div., '86-'92 including Gulf War I) thanks you, CWO Wright, for once again cutting right to the underlying issues. Your take is even more effective than Colbert's and Stewart's, since you give us the "ground truth." I've had the good fortune to be able to consider the VA a fallback option, but I totally agree with you the cogs in the system are working as hard as they can to do the best they can. It's up to the rest of us to get our elected officials to give them and our vets the proper support.

    Scott Burnell

  14. Thanks.

    I have never served in the Military (of the Netherlands) - quite simply, because I was rated Z5, and anyone with a 5 in the ABOHZIS qualification system was automatically out.

    I didn't care - I would have refused the draft anyway, and performed 16 months of alternative service.

    *That's* why I read your articles as they refer to Military Service. It's foreign to me and I need a voice of reason to explain it to me.

    Thank you.

  15. Wonderful essay, thank you. I really haven't known what to think about this "scandal". Everything seems to be lately, and I guess I'm just worn the fuck out. I do get the sacrifice you and your brothers and sisters in arms have made to having a "normal" life, and to your families. Thank you for yours.

  16. Thank you for your clear insights and intelligent conversation on this subject. I can recall being furious with President GW Bush, not as much for initiating action in Iraq as for not planning for the resulting casualties with more efficiency. The Walter Reed scandal infuriated me, and made me feel ashamed.
    More than your responses re: the VA, I applaud your comments re: the Outrage Machine. I keep trying to tell anyone who spews indignation that the media sells outrage for a living, and that we don't need to fall for it. With articles like yours; I am comforted to know that not all people are easily led. Thanks, Mr. Wright! Thanks.

    1. Actually, GWB did plan for the aftermath. His administration changed the eligibility requirements, making it even harder to access the VA system. When I tried to apply to the VA, I was informed of the change and told sorry, no VA for you, even though I fought in the First Gulf War.

  17. Not being a veteran myself, I try to not comment on these kinds of issues (someone, oftentimes family, always seems to get offended). But I still have to wonder how anyone could sign up for a military career with open eyes...given the lack of actual care and gratitude this company shows for those who have supported the corporate interests that seem to be all we fight for. One, maybe two of the wars we've been involved in during my lifetime, could be claimed to be for the defense of Americans, or for humanitarian reasons. The rest were pretty blatant grabs for oil, other resources, or political posturing.

    This is -not- a slam at veterans, if it is an insult at all, it should be seen as an insult to the politicians who keep misusing our armed forces for corporate benefit. But it is a serious question...why would someone who knew what he was getting into, get into it?

    I know I don't have to say it, but if you feel the question, working, or timing inappropriate, feel free to remove this comment. But this is one of the few places I've seen where I thought I might get some actual meaningful answers on it...because in general, the folks here tend to be awfully reasonable. ;)

    1. Hmm...looks like that preview option is there for a reason. Who'd have thought?

      "...question, WORDING, or timing..."

    2. I believe many choose the military because there are so few other jobs available and damn the consequences. Pablo

    3. USCG CPO (retired)May 24, 2014 at 5:51 PM

      There are many reasons people join, from a sense of patriotism to the promise of better education and opportunity to advance your lot in life. I decided I wanted to give something back to the community that raised me. I did my homework and picked the service that I felt matched my personal viewpoint. I didn't join to serve corporate interests; I joined to serve my friends and family.

      The open ocean trips were pretty cool too....

    4. I can only speak for myself. For me, it initially was the best way available to me to pay for college. I had tried unsuccessfully to get into Annapolis. I had a principal appointment but I'm partly colorblind - not a good thing in the Navy. I ended up in Army ROTC. (the Army only cared if I could tell the grass from a fire engine and I could) I would not have been able to afford it without my Army ROTC scholarship. And that scholarship, besides my engineering degree, got me a Regular Army commission and an assignment to the 82d Airborne Division. I found that I was good at what I did. I didn't stay for a whole career like Jim but I had more responsibility in that time than at any time since. It was great experience in leadership and being in the 82d, always on call and occasionally called, we had a real sense of purpose. For me, the Army allowed me to get a degree, and I was happy and proud to pay them back. I'm still in the 82d Abn Association these many years later. That brotherhood never ends no matter where life later takes us. And I don't consider it an inappropriate question at all. I've been asked it before. Hope that explains one point of view.

    5. I so appreciate the respect and consideration wih which you've asked your question I'd like to risk contributing an (but not "the") answer -- and I say "risk" because I trust Jim or others more knowledgable than I will jump in to correct any misstatements.

      Disclaimer: though unqualified for military service due to pacifism, I have only tremendous respect for those who are serving or have served -- honorably, that is, though I choose to believe that's the vast majority.

      Among the chief reasons young people enlist is the way the military is "marketed" by recruiting officers.

      To young people who've grown up in "economically-challenged" circumstances, it can be made to seem like "the way out" by emphasizing the educational opportunities (while also downplaying the risks of death or injury).

      Unfortunately, recruiters also employ what I'd call far more "covert" yet even more persuasive tactics.

      From a Christian Science Monitor op-ed, 12/28/09:

      "For the first time since the establishment of all-volunteer forces in 1973, the US military has met all of its recruiting goals.

      "This success can be attributed in part to the new video games and graphic novels aimed at America’s youth."


      Years ago, before playing at home became so ubiquitous, I was only a few years free of an addiction to videgame arcades when I found out that the military had discovered such places were a goldmine for recruitment. That led to the recruiters developing THEIR OWN games with the specific intent of luring "addicts" like me into signing up.

      Only now, nearly 30 years later, are we discovering that PTSD can afflict even those who control lethal drones far from any battlefield.

      Sadly, the list of recruiting "strategies" -- which some (myself included) feel can rightly be called "dirty tricks" -- is both shocking and far too long to include here. For those interested, here's an eye-opening paper posted by Rutgers University:


      IMHO, in a country that mandates warnings on cigarette packs, special car seats for infants and helmets for motorcyclists, military recruiting that does NOT include an accurate disclosure of the risks is false advertising bordering on criminal fraud.

    6. Why do we join?

      People join the military for many, many reasons. For a job, for education, to see the world, to get the hell out of their crappy lives and crappy hometowns, for patriotism, to serve their country, to work in a job that you just can't do anywhere else, for the experience, for the risk, out of family tradition, because they don't know what else to do, to find their limits, to meet girls, hell everybody joins for their own reasons. Ask a hundred veterans, you'll get a hundred different answers.

      Me? I joined because I was a misfit. I joined for the adventure. I wanted to see the world and tread those alien shores. I wanted to see Gibraltar and Tanzania and the Galapagos and sail 'round the Golden Horn and fight pirates off the shores of Morocco and wander the mysterious Orient. I joined because the horizons where I grew up were too close and too limited and just too goddammed small. I came from a loving family, I wasn't poor but I wasn't well off either, I could have done something else, I didn't have to join the military for a paycheck. But I didn't want to go work in some goddamned car factory or baling hay or whatever other people do. I didn't want something safe, I wanted to do things ordinary people don't do, I wanted to do those things civilians only read about. I wanted to go to college, but not just then, I wanted to see the world first, I wanted to do something important, and I wanted something more out of life than the people I grew up with. I'd been bullied and lorded over my whole life, by rich privileged assholes, and I was goddamned sick and tired of being told I should hate myself, that I wasn't good enough. I wanted to learn what I was made of, what my limits were, I wanted to prove something to myself, not to them but to myself. I wanted to prove that I could do it, that I was as tough and as fast and as smart and as talented as any of those privileged pricks. And I was, the Navy gave me that, and I was tougher and smarter and faster and more, much, much more. I earned my way up, every step, on my own skill and my own talent, and then I helped others find themselves too. And twenty years later I was leading rough and tough men into combat and I was good at it. I was doing something that mattered. I saw the world - more than you can ever imagine. And adventure? I could tell you stories, but you wouldn't believe a word of them, not one word - but other vets, they know, they've been out there too. That's the bond that holds us together, we know.

      We're ones who do not fit anywhere else. We join for a thousand different reasons, but we stay because we find a home, family, friends, comrades in arms, a band of brothers and sisters. We stay because we belong.

      The work is dirty and dangerous and often terrible, but it's who we are in our bones.

      If I have to explain it to you, you'll never ever understand.

    7. Thank you all for your answers. I know this can be a sensitive area. And no Jim, you don't need to explain the brothers-in-arms effect and other reasons to stay. I've got plenty of family and friends who have done that, and it's not at all hard to understand.

      Again, I'm not casting aspersions or trying to imply anything about any who served in the military. My issues with our military have never been with the guys on the ground, or on the water, or in the air...only with those who make the strategic decisions of when and where to get involved. I was within days of my own enlistment (probably within a few years of your own enlistment Jim), fueled by desires for travel, adventure and education. The realization that I would be swearing to follow orders given by those people was the only thing that stopped me. I simply couldn't bring myself to trust them that much.

      Again, thanks all for scratching my curiosity bump.

    8. Quoting Stonekettle here Jim: "I wanted to learn what I was made of, what my limits were, I wanted to prove something to myself, not to them but to myself. I wanted to prove that I could do it..." Pretty well sums it up for me. Vietnam was not a lost war in 1966 and I was young and thought I could do something besides pump gas, I found out I could.

  18. Not safe for work, not safe for children, vulgar, crude, funny as hell, and spot-on appropriate to the topic under discussion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmsOIjzQ1V8

    1. That was too funny, Anonymous! I am definitely irritated when I see all the bumper stickers, lapel pins & (especially) FB posts saying, "I support our troops!" My inclination is to ask, "Please elucidate: how exactly do you support (provide for, comfort, or aid) our troops? Do you host bake sales? Do you mail bits of body armor to soldiers in Afghanistan? Sacrifice virgins to Yog-Sothoth on their behalf? Because, y'know, I support them, too. Every year on or before April 15."

      "Or perhaps you just meant that you face the Pentagon twice each day & get all tingly inside. I am sure our troops - especially the ones in combat - really appreciate that."

      Yes, I know that there are many people who do contribute their time and/or money to provide some sort of concrete support for the military, and yes, I also admit I am not really one of those people. But I am willing to wager that 90% of those "Support our troops" re-posters are simply being narcissistic, saying in effect, "I am patriotic-er than you!"

      If you have baked the cookies, sent the money, or sacrificed the virgin; then go for it! You have earned the right to proclaim that you support the troops.

      Small rant, I know. Hope I haven't offended anyone. Am I too cynical?


    2. @ Anonymous 8:22 am

      I don't find your comment too cynical (though it's insufficient evidence for whether or not YOU are).

      It reminded me of how, in the aftermath of 9/11, some "super patriots" festooned their cars with American flags without any apparent knowledge of or regard for official flag protocol, violation of which any genuine patriot would consider extremely disrespectful.

      Flag protocol was so drilled into me as a kid that among my indelible memories of 9/11 is a huge, gas-guzzling, late-70s Cadillac (already a symbol of the attack's root cause) whose owner had draped a large American flag across the trunk and then slammed the lid on its edges to keep it in place. He was (of course) driving at night ... in the rain ... and the flag was spattered with road mud.

      It's easy to imagine the same guy's sputtering outrage over the Supreme Court's decision that First Amendment "free speech" includes protestors burning our nation's proud, "grand old" trunk cover.

      It'd be unsurprising to find the self-serving ignorance, hypocrisy and self-delusion among the "I Support Our Troops" crowd.

    3. Speaking of flag abuse, Grrrr !, my bible-quoting neighbor across the street has a big ol' flagpole in the front corner of his yard. He flies it constantly at half-mast (gosh, I wonder why!), night & day.


    4. I remember the flags that popped up all over the place after 9/11. I wonder if there was a law that any flag emblazoned with "These colors don't run" was required to use red dye that wouldn't stand up for more than a month or so without fading away. By the spring of 2002, they were still out there proudly showing the dirty white, ivory, and blue(ish)

    5. I grew up with a view of a flag factory out my bedroom window. Seriously. One of the few Girl Scout patches I earned was in flag protocol and I pride myself on being able to fold a flag into one of those nice tight triangles. After 9/11, I had to bite my tongue to keep from yelling at people who draped flags over everything. Especially the "my flag is bigger than yours" crowd and the I still have this sad ragged remnant attached to my car types. I feel what you are saying, Grr.

  19. MSNBC's Chris Hayes did a great segment this past week on the VA which laid at least part of the blame for the overburdened system on 13 continuous years of war. He likened it to a school system in a town where thousands of new families suddenly move in. You can throw all the money at the overcrowding you want but, unless you hire more teachers and build more classrooms, you're not going to get the job done. It made a lot of sense.

    My husband is a disabled vet (USAF) who receives 100% of his medical care from the N. Florida - S. Georgia Malcolm Randall VA center in Gainesville, FL. Is it perfect? No. Is it pretty damned good? Yeah, it really is. He injured his shoulder this past year so he went to the VA hospital's urgent care center, saw a wonderful nurse practitioner who, after tests, diagnosed a torn rotator cuff and referred him to a surgeon and hospital outside the system (under contract with the VA) since the wait would be too long for surgery within the system at the VA hospital.

    Yes, they can do that now. If a vet has an immediate problem and the VA doesn't have the right doctor immediately available, they can and do contract it out to a private doctor with the primary care still being though the VA. Same thing a few years ago - knee replacement at Malcolm Randall VA hospital by an orthopedic surgeon contracted from U. of Florida's Shands Medical Center across the street. And, unlike the hospital patients I used to care for, when he was discharged he stopped by the pharmacy an got all his prescription meds on the way out the door and all his medical equipment was sent right to the house, most of if arriving before the surgery (non-emergency).

    As a retired RN, I can say with some authority that I'm pretty impressed with the level of care, concern and respect hubby received from the VA. You can hear health related horror stories anywhere - most of them true - out of any private sector hospital in any state in the union. Yep, look under that rock and see what crawls out. Yikes, it our very own Governor, Rick Scott who, prior to his election was CEO of Columbia HCA hospital corporation when they were fined $1.7 billion dollars for Medicare fraud (yes, that's billions with a "B"). I wonder how many folks were turned away at the doors of one of his hospitals because they had no insurance.

    Yes there are problems with the VA but all of our citizens, veterans and non-vets alike deserve better.

  20. I must be getting cynical in my youth, as none of the above surprises me in the slightest. It appalls me, sure, and I'm glad that it's getting better (even if it's not improving fast enough), but I'm not at all surprised. While I'm of the opinion that our veterans deserve to have all their medical bills paid for by the DOD for life, the eternal gratitude of those who did not serve, and a six-figure pension upon retirement, I seem to be in the minority on this one.

    Maybe if we brought back the draft, and by extension increased the average American's chances of being exposed to the horrors of war, veterans might get the respect they deserve. Probably a bad idea, but that's nothing new to me.

    1. Alas, bringing back the draft will only bring back the abuses that happened before. The children of privilege will get their deferments, their medical excuses, their cushy assignments to safe, "essential" jobs. The Middle Class (what is left of it) will muddle through, hoping for the best, and praying for a low draft number; and the Poor will be driven down the slaughterhouse chutes, and onto the killing floor...

  21. Thank you once again Mr. Wright. My father (career AF) would have happily commiserated with you about the frustration of the VA. He passed away more than forty years ago, in his 40s. Waiting for care. Not much better today, sadly.

    Maybe the only way we will eventually be rid of the mess is to stop the wars. Too easy a solution?


  22. As usual, I thought Jim's column was spot on. Also, as usual, I find myself informed by my fellow commenters. Stonekettle Station is possibly the most intelligent gathering place on the 'net.

  23. So, yesterday I was on the plane on my way from Dallas to LA and my wife and I ended up sitting next to a guy from Brisbane. Conversation got around to this weekend, and he was telling me he was bummed that he missed ANZAC Day (Australian Memorial Day, probably New Zealand and Canada too) because he was here, and now he was missing Memorial Day because he was headed home. I asked him about ANZAC Day and he told me it was a really big deal there, and people everywhere, service member or not, celebrated, and watched all of the services on TV, attended local deals etc. One thing really stuck out to me. He said for them, it was spiritual. I asked if he had been in the service. He just said "no, we just really appreciate the sacrifices made on our behalf," or something to that effect. I lamented that here, it's just the first day of barbecue season. He said that's what he had heard from his friends in Indiana. Then, in the way airplane conversations go, especially ones that turn semi-serious, it kind of ended in a slightly awkward, "yeah, such a shame" moment. The screens came down for the pre-flight announcement and we both kind of waited uncomfortably for it to start. I think maybe we talked a little bit more, I can't remember if we talked about how close I'd been to Brisbane once and how he'd never even been to Darwin before or after that exchange. At the end of the flight we parted ways amicably and that was that. But it stuck with me, ANZAC Day for them was spiritual.

    Later, on our way home from LAX to San Diego, really on our way to Tijuana, my wife asked me about Memorial Day and what it meant. She is originally from Mexico and doesn't much care about politics or history, but she knows I do, so she asks me about stuff like that. So I started talking about it and the conversation got around about how I feel about people who thank me for my service. Honestly, most of the time, it bugs the shit out of me because I KNOW how disingenuous it is. Many of the people who thank me for my service want to thank me because it makes them feel good. Like they get a +1 on the veteran appreciation scoreboard for the day. "I shook a vet's hand and told him thanks! I'm so awesome!" Then they get to go tell their buddies, hey man, I support the troops, even told some guy I hardly know (and I might add has no idea what I did or didn't do, if I was honorable or not, a good sailor or not, etc.) I was really proud of him and his service.

    You summed up the way I feel about the whole thing pretty much on point Jim. We (America), slap stickers on our cars, retweet, share, post etc. things on our pinterfacespacefeedagram accounts and say to ourselves. "+1 on the scoreboard for me today, I did my part in appreciating veterans. Now, where's the shitty lite beer and the barbecue sauce, time to go get my 'Merica on."

    1. "Honestly, most of the time, it bugs the shit out of me because I KNOW how disingenuous it is. Many of the people who thank me for my service want to thank me because it makes them feel good."

      You have just cemented why I hate get the cursory "thanks for serving!" and slaps on the back. My wife always asks why I get uncomfortable in uniform out and about and why I ALWAYS change into civs as fast as I can. I hate getting those kinds of surprises when I'm just out trying to put gas in the car and get home for dinner. While some may be truly genuine, the majority I can tell do it for the spectacle. They want to get that check mark feel good for the day then get the hell on with whatever it was they were doing before I crashed in on reality and screwed up their plans.

      Mike Wood
      E6 USAF/SF

  24. I recall complaints about the VA back during the Vietnam War so, yeah, this weed has deep roots.

    I wonder if one of those roots might be the fact that it has been over 70 years since our armed forces were involved in a conflict in which our nation's freedom and existence was actually threatened. For decades now, they have been mostly employed in the service of corporate and political interests rather than in defense of the citizenry as a whole.

    This is not, of course, in any way the fault of the people who do the actual fighting; quite the opposite. It's the fault of politicians who have come to see our fighting men and women as so many toy soldiers to be used at their convenience and then discarded. When are we going to get angry enough at the "masters of war" to start demanding some accountability? When are we going to realize that invading another country is not the low risk option?

    1. It was so bad in the early 80's that Viet vets shunned the VA hospitals and bureaucracy dungeons enmasse. According to the Vet Center website "The Vet Center Program was established by Congress in 1979 out of the recognition that a significant number of Vietnam era vets were still experiencing readjustment problems."

      Readjustment problems? WTF?

      That is a massive understatement. I was in Charlotte, NC and worked in one. We had guys living in hooches in the woods who set up perimeters with tin-can warning devices. Some were armed. They would occasionally "drop in" to get a cup of coffee and sometimes a shower. There was usually someone around to talk to. In our center the psychologists, counselors, and most of the volunteers were Viet Vets. The "patrons" of our facility would never, in a million years, have gone to a traditional VA center.

      True story: I answered the phone and a woman said that her husband had been back from Vietnam for well over 10 years (memory fails me) and had been a loving husband, father and a good provider. She said he came home drunk the previous night, beat her up, had a pistol and shot a hole in the ceiling. She wanted to know what to do. We told her to get herself and the kids out of there and then try to talk to her husband when he was sober and get him to come to the Vets Center. Typical of the many calls we got.

  25. Nice work Stone. All the libtards are linking to you and saying "See? Nothing here thats unusual. Just another fake scandal. Move along."

    1. You don't have to be a "libtard" to recognize BS, but it helps. All you really need is one or two friends or family members who've served in the military to figure it out. As Jim said, it's a scandal, but it's nothing new. But there will be some who blow it up all out of proportion to suit their own agendas. Similar to the Benghazi issue, which is just garnish on a plate full of similar situations that never got the attention of scheming politicians.

    2. Actually, it's the liberals who usually have no problem with reading comprehension, unlike conservatives such as yourself.

      Why is that, you suppose? Or do I need to use smaller words?

    3. "I'm shocked, SHOCKED to find that an intelligent discussion about an insightful post by a retired career-Navy Officer is going on here!"

      Because anonymously posting trollish insults is SO much more helpful ...

    4. I'm probably one of those "libtards" that Anonymous mentioned because I usually have a liberal stance on most issues. But this shouldn't be a conservative v. liberal issue. Anyone in Congress who is helping to cause these problems, be they Republican, Democrat, or Independent, needs to have their political ass kicked. Our veterans should be getting the best medical care we can provide, especially those who have seen combat (and I include mental health care in that).

      Jim, no need to use smaller words. I am not a vet and don't have dealings with the VA but I understood you and appreciate the intelligent and honest post on the issue.

      Finally, since I haven't seen anyone say this yet, "Your winnings, sir."

  26. Jim, Thank you for this brilliant essay and for your service. Thanks to all the vets and their families for their services in the military. My thoughts and prayers for those who lost loved ones.

  27. I believe that President Obama has enlarged the class of people eligible for care. For that reason the backlog went up and is now going back down. I don't know enough about who has/hasn't supported reform of the VA. I do know that since 2008 Republicans in Congress are the only ones involved in witch hunts, fake scandals and shutting down government. They are also the ones that have blocked many bills that would have benefited veterans and military families. So mostly when people talk about Congress, I think Republicans.

    1. That enlargement includes people like me who don't need it. However, the important thing to realize, which my Senator was clueless about before and after I wrote to him was that even though more people may be eligible you are still assigned a priority category. Mine will NEVER come up. There just won't ever be enough resources. But I'm fine with that. There are many others who genuinely need the care.

  28. Well said. Thank you Jim.

    I believe this statement you wrote applies to almost every facing out nation at present:
    "The problem is an ineffective deadlocked Congress who’ve abdicated their actual constitutional responsibilities and oversight for conspiracy theories and witch hunts, hysteria mongering and political theater."

    All Americans deserve better, especially those who served in harms way.

  29. Bravo..succinct and well written.

  30. CWO Wright,
    Once again, Bravo Zulu.
    an old Hole Snipe.

  31. God dammit if you are the most eloquent progressive on the Internet. You should be a speechwriter for someone. Keep it up, my friend, and I will continue to come worship at your altar.

    1. Greg - ETC(SW) USN - RetiredMay 26, 2014 at 4:28 PM

      I was just contemplating the mental image of your favorite politician (you pick 'em) mouthing the words of any given Stonekettle Station essay (their speech). YIKES!!

  32. In 1975, after a 3 year stint in the Marines, I went back to college on the GI Bill. About 6 months later the VA filed a suit against my mother because (and I quote the lawyer) "He's dead. You knew he was dead and you collected the education benefits anyway."

    It took me 4 months to convince them I was alive. Oddly enough, the monthly checks kept coming.

    Weirdness. Serious Weirdness.

  33. I disagree with your conclusion that its congress. (As much as I hate to do so). Its more the apathy of the majority of the population. Other than when events like this occur, no one gives a shit except for veterans and their families. Its nice that people are all concerned this week, however next week, or next month? Probably not so much.

    1. That would be generally true of just about any issue. The job we elect these bozos to perform is to govern. Which means making sure the important shit gets done, and the bullshit gets overlooked. The current bunch got it absolutely bassackwards, as some of the worst of them seem to take so much pleasure in saying.


  34. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you! Because, you know, I had no idea that this was going on. Just like I didn't know al Queida was targeting us a decade and a half ago. Just like I didn't know that there were pedophile priests.
    Great googly moogly people. Really? You had your heads buried so deep in the sand that you truly had no clue?
    Manufactured outrage at the crisis du jour. Anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention knew about all of these issues long before some politician or news organization decided to use them to rabble rouse.
    Chandra in MO

  35. This:

    If these people had put but one tenth of their efforts into responding to their veteran constituents as they did chasing after blowjobs and Benghazi, if they would have allocated but a hundredth of the funds to veterans affairs as they wasted on cancelled weapons programs and pork barrel projects, if they had put half the effort into creating jobs for veterans as they did into protecting those who continue to liquidate American businesses and ship American jobs overseas, well then veterans wouldn’t be dying while waiting for treatment.

    1. Kenny Starr's $70M could have built a couple hospitals, at least.

  36. To paraphrase John Gray (author of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus"):
    "Soldiers from from Jupiter, politicians are from Uranus"

    Seriously, speaking as a "foreign peace-nic libtard", US vets deserve much, much better. They are being asked (over the past few decades, usually wrongly in my opinion), to fight and possibly die for their country. After doing this largely thankless job, they come home and get treated like dirt:

    1) by the public as the scapegoat for the politician's misunderstandings of world diplomacy and power politics, and
    2) by the government who thinks that vets are satisfied by patriotic speeches and cleverly stages sound bites and photo ops.

    You're absolutely right to lay the blame on congress (which should perhaps be extended to at least one ex-president & ex-vice president), who appear only to answer only to fell-funded corporate interests.

    Seen from the outside, the US political system has become so polarized that I suspect moderates, who collectively could correct the system, have become so cynical and apathetic that they have left the country's political destiny to the political nut cases on the fringes. The result is endless arguments about 'fundamentalist dogma', avoiding the real problems the nation faces.

    This just plays into the hands to the vested interests who are busy gaming the system to their advantage.

    In the meantime, the public, and the vets in particular are getting screwed. This is a shame, particularly for the country that used to be the role model for democracy.

    1. "fell-funded corporate interests"

      Makes more sense than you intended:

      fell [fel] adjective
      1. fierce; cruel; dreadful; savage.
      2. destructive; deadly: fell poison; fell disease.

  37. Dammit, Jim, I wish you weren't right so often! Parts of the VA are a mess, although on the whole it's less of a mess than it has been, and will remain so until Congress cares more about medical care and jobs for veterans and less about shiny new weapons systems, manufactured crises foreign and domestic, and making the guy in the White House look bad. I have no idea how to make that happen, short of voting all the obstructive idiots out of office. I won't hold my breath.

    That Other Jean

  38. beat their fleshy chests in faux-patriotic fever
    I think 'fervor' would make more sense in this context, but that might just be me.

    Not being part of a military family in any manner, I had no idea it was in such a state.
    The tendency in political discourse to overblown hyperbole is enough to make one ashamed to be an American. I don't believe that politician should be a valid career choice. Unfortunately, bureaucracy has a life of its own.

    1. We need politicians. It's that or lots more soldiers.
      Squabbles and misunderstanding are normal human events. Politicians are supposed to wheel and deal so that the "next step" to violence isn't taken. Without them we'd fighting all the time and civilization would not , as we know it, exist.
      Please take the time to politicise. Read the paper. Vote. Talk to people about it.
      I used to be patient transporter. I'd get over to the VA every once in a while. I can't say anything about the service, but it was low on the funding list, I could tell that.

    2. John Healy - I do vote, etc. I know we need people serving in the government. My point was that being a politician should not be allowed to be a career. The founding fathers expected people to serve and then go back home,.

    3. I see where you are going, but disagree. Career Pols are OK by me. It takes skill and knowledge. Things experience is good for. I think if they take the job, they should do it. Not vote down Obama-care once for each state.
      Not knowing why I'm starting an argument with someone named Trouble is what bothers me.

  39. As usual, spot on Jim. I am glad to hear that the VA system is improving overall with, hopefully, only a few instances of absolute stupidity and failure to care. I believe that Congress is to blame for its failure to adequately fund and populate the system in its never-ending homage to corporate personhood.

  40. I've had pretty good luck with the VA, the health care providers and technicians have been uniformly professional, in my experience. The problems that I have observed are those endemic to any large organization, it takes a while to get things done. Much of it stems from efforts to avoid wasting tax money through rules put in place by the various congresses and administrations over the years, but like most waste control measures it also tends to slow things down. Routine stuff does require advance arrangements, but they do take walk-ins and have emergency rooms.

    Also, there does seem to be variation in quality of service, geographically. This holds true for non-VA medical too, though, so it's not really unexpected.

    Given the restrictions, while there is, as in all things, room for improvement, the folks running the system are doing about as well as one can. Biggest gripe I can think of is that it's not easy to change doctors (although they get transferred periodically), if you don't mesh with whomever you are assigned, but I haven't had a problem there.


  41. "the America people" might be "American."

  42. I want to be you when I grow up! Great article!

  43. The real problem is the stupid pointless wars of aggression we've fought for decades that never really end, and when they are said to be over, the ones to survive who actually were suckered into thinking they were fighting for freedom are left to rot while the war profiteers sleep well knowing they and theirs have been well cared for. The people vote for war by electing warmongers. The people vote against the military by electing warmongers.

  44. Thank you for this article, Jim. It is so easy to get complacent and think that our tax dollars are actually benefiting our vets, when the fact is that they aren't doing as much as we like to tell ourselves they are.

    While the VA is always going to be to a certain extent a casualty of political posturing, a number of private organizations are working hard to fill the gaps. My husband and I donate to these organizations because they provide a tangible and direct way to improve veterans' lives. For example, Rainier Therapeutic Riding (they can be found on facebook) provides free equine therapy to any current or former member of the military, and affordable equine therapy for military family members. This therapy is especially helpful for TBI and PTSD cases, which are both notoriously difficult to treat.

    Personally, I find it comforting to know that people 'out there' care and provide services like these to our soldiers and vets, and as far as I am concerned--put the 5 dollars you would have spent on a yellow ribbon magnet into organizations like these, and do that on a weekly basis, and see what real change you can effect in a veteran's actual life.

  45. Thank you, Jim.
    From a sick gulf war era vet who is entirely unsurprised by the "scandal" and uninspired by the opportunistic wailing and flailing.

    What saddens me is that many good, honest, va employees will be scapegoats in this, and the corruption will continue unabated.

    Why am I so sure of that? Because that's SOP.

    We "chronic undiagnosed multi-symptom illness" sufferers are getting screwed EXACTLY the same way the agent orange vets got screwed. And future vets can expect more of the same.

    Tommy still sees. But nothing changes.


  46. I hate this post, mostly because I know that every word is true.

  47. Just getting to this post after the weekend, and look at all I missed. For Jim and all the vets, I do still say thank you for your service, and sometimes mention my service if/when I detect a slight eyeroll. I served from 1984 to 1998, active Army Enlisted, then NG enlisted then NG officer, but was Infantry so never landed a combat roll. I decided to get out for a new job in a new state and the hope of having a family (all of those happened), but to this day regret having folks I served with later shipping into combat when I "should" have been with them. The folks joining up today KNOW they are probably going into some form of conflict, yet they write that blank check every single day, so I say "Thanks" without explanation because I am not there to toot my horn but pat their backs and thank them. I also try to thank the spouses and kids when I see Vet plates or similar indicators.
    Thanks, Janet McCandlas, for the simple donation idea, I hope more people pick up on it.

  48. My 87-year-old uncle served during the last months of WWII in the Pacific. They were taking ANYONE in 1944, apparently. Anyhow, he avoided the VA for all these intervening years... hated 'em, HATED 'em...

    But he had a stroke two years ago. My sister and I are his last remaining relatives. We found out that he was eligible for VA services, and immediately enrolled him. The VA has been responsive, polite, and extremely prompt and helpful with everything. Much, MUCH better than the service he was getting through his Medicare Supplemental Insurance with Kaiser Health -- Now that's a seriously jammed up system! They were misdiagnosing him, medicating him inappropriately, and he almost died before we discovered he was in the hospital and completely over- and mis-medicated.

    He's now a happy client of the VA in Hot Springs, South Dakota. They've solved all his problems, and he's living independently, with no serious problems. It's been wonderful to have the VA to help us with him.

    Fun factoid: my uncle has Autism Spectrum Disorder -- we figured it out when we started caring for him, and finally got it diagnosed at the VA a couple of months ago. Which is kind of amusing, since I doubt that the Armed Forces normally enlists people with that kind of problem. But they were shoveling them onto boats as fast as they could in 1944, I s'poze.

  49. After having navigated the maze of VA medical facilities with my now-deceased father, I can say that this kind of chaos didn't happen in 5 yrs, 10 yrs, 20 yrs. It has probably been an issue since day one.

    Dad's doctors were all polite, prompt, caring, concerned, and dead wrong. His Alzheimer's was deemed a UTI - forget the fact that his Alz symptoms continued after the UTI was cleared up - and efforts to get him the help he needed were exhausting and on one occasion almost got my ass arrested for creating a ruckus in the ER.

    The biggest problem I saw was the lack of oversight. The 'there's-nobody-else-to-ask' - iveness of the whole system.

    Sure the doctors and nurses were overworked and overstretched, and sometimes overwrought...but they were also often incompetent. Not all of them graduated tops in their class, I can assure you. And there was no one to talk with that would listen.

    That's the root of the issue, in my opinion. The kids have the keys to the candy store and no one is watching, or if they are they turn a blind eye.

  50. I agree with you that it's insane that Shinseki has to resign to placate the mob. By all accounts he seems to have been working hard to improve things at the VA.

    My experience with the VA is only vicariously through my dad, a 90-year-old WWII vet who recently had to spend a few weeks at the VA in Hilo, HI. I have to say that his accounts of what happened there scared the crap out of me because I live 4500 miles away in Pennsylvania and can't do diddly-squat to help him except make phone calls. But based on my phone calls and his reports (and despite his age he's mentally quite sharp), many VA staff members there were incompetent and uncaring. When I spoke to their patient advocate (or whatever they called her) I got reassurances they would provide him with various things. After talking to him, it became clear that either the woman I spoke to didn't know jack about what was possible or the staff members tasked with providing these things (like access to the Internet so he could handle some financial issues, PT to get him well faster, appropriate meds to handle his condition the way the hospital that sent him there requested them to) didn't know what they were doing or didn't give a shit. Fortunately, a local friend was able to help him somewhat, and he was released after a couple of weeks, but it was a very scary experience.

    He vowed never to go back. Which is a pretty damning indictment.

  51. Several people have suggested that McCain be nominated to replace Shinseki. He's a vet, he's from Arizona -- and if he accepted the nomination, could his party dare to delay his confirmation. My theory is that they want to force Duckworth to be nominated. To get That Woman out of the Senate.

    Dr. Phil

    1. Duckworth in in the House, not the Senate - I know because she is my rep.

  52. Well, General Shinseki is out, so I guess it's all better now. Problem is that it's pretty tough for any one individual to effect rapid change in the bureaucracy, where the actual problem lies. The beast, due to it's size has tremendous inertia and takes a long time and consistant effort to change direction. Assuming the politicians can even pay attention that long, a poor hope, at best, it would take several administrations, of whatever persuasion, down the road to even start a course change.


  53. I can say enough good things about this article......thank you so much. We have a friend who lost both legs in Viet Nam, and we've watched his struggle firsthand over the past 40+ years. He has never blamed the overworked, sometimes overwhelmed staff - they have been and continue to be compassionate professionals who work their asses off for all their patients. It's not their fault when our friend is suffering with excruciating pain and has to wait three weeks for a bed. It's tragic.

  54. Once upon a time in the not too distant past, the VA built an integrated nationwide clinical computer system that featured an electronic patient chart. And then it built other systems to take the raw data generated at all front line facilities to slice and dice it and generate reports about quality of care and establish clinical goals for care. The VA also developed other computer systems to provide mandated services and administrative functions and analyze all that other stuff as well. Then came performance measures, report cards if you will, to monitor and improve clinical care as well as all the other non-clinical functions. This was seen as a positive development so more performance measures were added and even more after that until there was a forest of performance measures, often at odds with each other, applied to every level of the VA hierarchy: local, regional, and national. The report cards were taken seriously and woe to the outliers on the report because, “Lucy, they have some ‘esplaining to do”.

    The moral to this fable is performance measures are generated at the national level, are subdivided and assigned to regions, and are further subdivided and assigned by the regional levels to the local facilities and clinics under their administrative control. In some instances these measures may count actual numbers over or under. I would argue there is way too much meaningless daily oversight from the national and regional levels that distracts local facilities and consumes far too much time and resources and forces officials at every level to react to the demands for information or provide explanations for some finding or report that did not meet expectations. Based on not always accurate data from computer systems that were originally designed to improve care and provide objective, data based evaluations of care and services and have now become leashes or nooses. Take your pick.

    For the record I maintain performance measures are neither all positive nor all negative, but it should be understood that like all things designed by humans, they may generate unintended consequences along the way.

    Regarding the current scheduling fiasco, reread the second paragraph up and use your imagination.

  55. I looked up some numbers in the VA's own statistics.

    1. Since 2001 patient numbers have approximately doubled.
    2. Since 2001 the money spent per patient has approximately doubled
    3. Since 2001 funding has approximately doubled
    (all in inflation adjusted dollars).

    I can do that math and it doesn't come close to adding up. While funding has increased substantially it's obvious that more is needed. I've already written to my own Sen. Burr, who all but blamed veterans organizations for not doing HIS job. This didn't just happen yesterday or in the last 5 years. It's been this way.

  56. A little off topic, but related - From the BBC on debunking myths from the Great War: "Some 12% of the British army's ordinary soldiers were killed during the war, compared with 17% of its officers. Eton alone lost more than 1,000 former pupils - 20% of those who served. UK wartime Prime Minister Herbert Asquith lost a son, while future Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law lost two. Anthony Eden lost two brothers, another brother of his was terribly wounded, and an uncle was captured."

    May be a simplification, but the British upper class sent their sons to lead the troops out of the trenches and into the guns. Can you imagine any of these f'ing bastards in Congress and the Senate allowing their precious progeny to risk life and limb in the service anymore? And if they did they have concierge doctors service on call now rather than having to rely on the VA.

    Hey Congressmen and Senators - As a Marine veteran and patriotic voting American, If you can read this....FUCK YOU!

    The definition of our current crop of elected dickheads: "Wholly owned investment properties of the 1%, petro chemical industry, health care industry (oxymoron), Wall Street, etc, etc." The only job these elected freeloaders have is to get reelected to keep fluffing their moneyed masters.

    I am so happy to have moved away from DC months ago. The slime has almost come off. Semper Fi Jim - Tommy D

  57. As a lifelong civilian, I was astonished to find that my sense of the situation was similar to yours--that Shinsecki was not the problem and that replacing him would only bring in someone who didn't know the situation as well, and who'd want the job? But then I am the granddaughter, daughter, and wife of teachers and a former teacher, and I know how unfunded/underfunded mandates work: legislators demand what they refuse to pay for, and then everyone gets to blame the overstressed workers for not doing the impossible. Damn. I hate being right about this.

  58. As a veteran I'm extremely fortunate. I've never had need of VA services. However, I have helped fellow vets make the trip to the local VA hospital and I agree, things have improved.

    I do find it disgusting that the Defense Department can get funds it doesn't even want or need and that the VA goes wanting. Doctors don't work for atta-boys. They have families to feed and house just like everyone else. So staff shortages aren't mismanagement, they are the result of misplaced "belt tightening."

    Bernie Sanders is right. If you can't afford to take care of your vets stop creating new ones.

  59. I just buried an old friend, a Nam Vet...he didn't like to share his combat stories, just because of what he went through after the war...He was part of many "dust off" missions in the Central Highlands, during TET...and this is where he earned his "Heart"...an incredible person, scarred by war, then scarred by us...he fought the system and finally gave up...he died with dignity and honor, with no qualms about serving in a war he thought was wrong...He went anyway, and saved many on the battlefield...he is just one of many, who have answered the call of our Nation, just to be denied a normal life afterwards...Blame? Blame lies upon us all...Master Chief, thanks...I wish John could have read your essay...

  60. It's easy, if you don't want to fund the VA, don't start wars, money saved at both ends.

    Simplistic I know, what would the Oligarchy do without wars, their profiteering would dry up and we can't have THAT!

    Rob W

    6 years RAAF ground crew

  61. Thank you Jim for this and all your essays.

  62. hell, the director of the Phoenix VA Hospital where this all started is still out on paid leave

    Just wondering idly...if a government employee (especially one of the more highly paid ones) is found to have been screwing the G, do those wages become "ill-gotten gains", and thence subject to a demand for restitution?
    Just a thought...

  63. This latest thing? The appalling revelation that the Phoenix VA was cooking the books in order to meet impossible deadlines and levels of throughput?

    No Veteran Left Behind!

    There was no actual investigation

    Yeah, well, they essentially be investigating themselves, now wouldn't they?

  64. In his infinite partisan wisdom, John Boehner immediately stated that the departure of Shinseki "changes nothing".

    Question: then why insist on his departure…?


  65. I am a vet (Army) who has never needed VA services. I do however, know some of those who do. The opinions vary on services but, overall most were were not necessarily happy, satisfied is perhaps a little strong.
    Lack of funding is the real problem: we create more need than we resources. If you really want your eyes opened, ask those elected jackwads about their DD 214's. Or the DD 214's of their spawn. I will bet that most (by a large margin) don't even know what it is. If however, you served you know, and have probably marched your butt down to the Recorder's office.
    Once again JIm is spot on and we all need to 'fire for effect.'
    DO NOT continue to abuse yourself, our vets nor our nation; never vote for an incumbent. Of a certainty, there will be some deserving officials lost but, WE hold the power of 'term limits.'

  66. First time I became aware of anything untoward in the VA was when I saw the "Article 99" movie on cable.

    That was in 1992.

  67. Like so many I appreciate your point of view, your vehemence, your insight, your distillation to a core.

    I am the daughter of a vet (could not get waivers for my super poor eyesight myself) and have several cousins and others who served.

    It is so sad that the very people who tie ones hands also get to be judge, jury and executioner shouting down any others until they obtain their way like any petulant child allowed to run rampant (I can only think of Robin of the Vale... Make him fly mommy ... i want to see the bad man fly!)

    Making any progress in a behemoth of a system takes so much time and effort many do not even try and so as one see some light at the end of the tunnel whoosh the rug under your feet is yanked away and you crash on the cold hard concrete.

    Probably, IMHO, the two worst things he did was piss off the prior commander-in-chief to provide the excuse those who would to wait until they finally had something to skewer him with, and second, he had to know he was taking on a schtupidvisor position. One of those fabulous promotions where you get nothing but the oppressive work with no authority and certainly no recognition if you manage to overcome some sisyphean feat.

    the fact we cannot learn, or at least some cannot, from our mistakes continues to haunt us.

  68. A respectfully suggested tweak to the title: "The VA Scandal, More Of The Shame"

  69. Thank you Jim. A very thoughtful and illuminating* perspective.
    Context is everything no?

    *not an Illuminati allusion

  70. This brought tears to my eyes and faith back in American people.

  71. Reading this blog makes me think of this great old English song,
    performed by the great Steeleye Span, "Fighting For Strangers":


  72. Thank you for the voice of sanity in the midst of this insane crapstorm whipped up by the crazies.


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.