Our view: Sound alarm even if VA horrors not local
Problems plaguing VA medical facilities in Phoenix and elsewhere apparently aren’t happening here in the Twin Ports.
They served their country — and then died waiting for medical care they deserved and needed, medical care too slow in coming from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Our entire nation can be outraged, whether the failures happened in our backyards or half a country away.
“There’s a big difference between Minnesota and Arizona and Nevada (in) the (number) of veterans that they have and that we have,” an official with the St. Louis County Veterans Service Office in Duluth explained to the News Tribune Opinion page yesterday. In other words, long waits and backlogs aren’t the problems here in the Northland they are in Sun Belt states where scores of retired veterans are living and relocating.
“We just had the VA come through the entire Minneapolis system, and we got high marks,” reported another veterans-services employee, this one at the Twin Ports VA Clinic on Tower Avenue in Superior. “It’s not a secret the VA was here last week, and from what I understand, and from what I’ve heard, everything is really good. Nothing here like what we’ve been hearing from Phoenix or anywhere else.”
Neither veterans-services employee would provide their name after being contacted by the Opinion page. Can you blame them?
Evidence has been piling up for years of VA appointment schedulers cooking books to make it appear as though veterans were not waiting as long for care as they really were. Federal prosecutors are determining whether criminal violations occurred. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki is under fire with some calling for his resignation and/or termination. On Friday, the VA undersecretary for health, Robert Petzel, resigned over the scandal. And on Monday, the New York Daily News reported that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid $36.4 million to settle at least 167 cases since 2001 related to delays in medical treatment.
Outrage seems to be coming to a head now, on the eve of Memorial Day weekend, the holiday set aside to honor and remember military members who made the ultimate sacrifice. One of the questions being asked is whether enough is being done. One head rolled already, sure, but critics are quick to point out that Dr. Petzel — the “chief cover-up artist,” as one whistleblower called him on a Sunday-morning news program — already was planning to retire. And while he may be “mad as hell,” at least according to one of his spokespeople, President Barack Obama hasn’t shown much leadership on this issue. He has yet to address it publicly.
True leadership is what’s needed. And transparency. And accountability. And changes so more veterans aren’t left to die or decline while awaiting the medical care they deserve and earned. Their service and sacrifice has to be treated as more valuable than that.