Armed Services Day Marred by VA Scandal

Today marks Armed Forces Day, a holiday begun by Harry S. Truman to thank our military for their patriotic service in support of our country. As the New York Times solemnly wrote in 1952:

This is the day on which we have the welcome opportunity to pay special tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces . . . to all the individuals who are in the service of their country all over the world. Armed Forces Day won’t be a matter of parades and receptions for a good many of them. They will all be in line of duty and some of them may give their lives in that duty.

On this day President Truman asked us to remember and honor “those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.”

The sacrifice the men and women of the armed forces are taking each day is astounding. They are literally laying down their lives each and every day to uphold the principles we hold dear. In a world as vicious and unpredictable as this one we are largely able to rest soundly because other people are brave and selfless and principled enough to fight for peace.

It is a bitter and tragic bit of irony that as we celebrate Armed Forces Day that we continue to hear news about the ongoing scandal in VA hospitals. Over the past few weeks seven VA offices have discovered secret waiting lists – an elaborate scheme designed to hide the thousands of sick veterans whose health was rapidly declining while waiting for appointments and care.

According to whistleblowers there is an “official” list that is given to officials in Washington and then there is a secondary “secret” list that is meant to hide the fact that our military can often wait more than a year for needed care. Even more disturbing, reports indicate that one of the reasons for the secrecy was to allow management executives to get bonuses related to shorter wait times.

While federal bureaucrats were forging records in order to earn a little extra cash American soldiers and veterans were dying. The USA Today editorial board reports on one tragic story:

Barry Coates, a 44-year-old Army veteran, visited VA hospitals and clinics in South Carolina seven times starting in 2010, complaining of severe stomach pain and rectal bleeding and practically begging for a routine cancer screening test.

When Coates finally got the colonoscopy, more than a year after his first visit, it was too late. Doctors found a huge tumor and diagnosed him with late-stage colon cancer, which has since spread to his liver and lungs. “I stand before you terminally ill,” Coates told a House hearing last month, adding, “Someone should be held accountable.”

CNN recently reported the tragic story of a Navy Veteran who went to the doctor after seeing blood in his urine. The man was so proud of his military service that he refused to go anywhere but the VA for treatment. But after going to the Phoenix VA and being labeled as having an “urgent” need for treatment, he waited and he waited and he waited. Two months after first being rushed to the VA, Thomas Breen was dead of bladder cancer. His family said he suffered, he screamed and he cried, in no small part because nobody would help him.

That’s a story that should have never happened. And yet Breen was one of forty people who reportedly died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital alone. That’s unacceptable. And so is the lack of response from the White House.

“How many stories like this, how many letters like this, how many dead veterans do you need before somebody asks the question within the White House, ‘Maybe this guy [Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki] isn’t the best steward of these veterans’?” CNN’s Jake Tapper angrily asked of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Sadly, Tapper got very little in response. Our Armed Services deserve better. Our veterans deserve better. What better time to start giving it to them than on Armed Services Day?