The Veterans Administration “appointment gaming” scandal is the buzz right now. What most people don’t realize is that the VA has been underserving our veterans for decades. Even before there was a VA, American veterans were frequently forgotten after their service. Within a few years of the Revolutionary War, angry veterans, who had not been paid for their service, participated in Shays’ Rebellion. Civil War veterans were left to return to their lives, often penniless and in poor health. Many wound up in jails and insane asylums. Unemployed World War I veterans formed the “Bonus Army” and marched on Washington in 1932 demanding immediate payment for their service in the war. They had been given IOU’s awarding them bonuses for their service, but these certificates couldn’t be redeemed until 1945!
In the VA era, Vietnam veterans were often forced to accept inadequate care and had to endure long waits to see healthcare providers. Many complained of symptoms caused by exposure to Agent Orange but the VA wouldn’t even recognize Agent Orange exposure as a covered illness until 1991 – nearly 20 years after the war had ended. Ironically, by 1991, the first Gulf War veterans were reporting symptoms of what would eventually be known as Gulf War Syndrome; a disease for which the VA’s response was to stonewall again.
Ask any veteran from any conflict and they’ll tell you that navigating the VA bureaucracy is challenging. The New York Daily News reported recently that the average wait time for resolving first time claims in New York is 642 days. In Reno, Nevada, vets wait an average of 681 days! America’s treatment of its veterans is so poor that numerous charities have emerged to try to help out. One of these charities, the Wounded Warrior Project, airs TV commercials showing snippets of injured and disfigured veterans to elicit donations; commercials that seem painfully similar to ASPCA commercials.
While the Wounded Warrior Project’s intentions may be noble, the idea that America has abandoned its veterans to the point where they must now depend on charitable donations to receive care is reprehensible. No veteran should ever have to worry about care.
When young men and women volunteer to serve in the military, they believe they are entering into a contract with America and that contract is: If you risk your life to defend America, to defend democracy, to defend freedom, and to uphold the American way of life, then America will not forget you. Tens of millions of veterans living today have proudly upheld their end of this contract yet America seems to be suffering from a severe case of VA; otherwise known as veterans amnesia.
Congress should pass a law, better yet, there should be a constitutional amendment, that America may not enter any war or conflict unless it can guarantee, in advance, the complete and expedient care of those Americans injured in that conflict. In other words, if we can’t care for our vets after the war, then we shouldn’t go to war at all.
Yes, there may be unavoidable wars in the future – like World War II when America was attacked – but that’s still no excuse not to care for our vets. War is not over when combat ends. War is only over when every last veteran is made whole again by the country he or she fought to defend.