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by Mary Foran
Memorial Day celebrations were full of patriotic concerts, memorial services and family barbecues on the Monday holiday, but paying tribute to dead and injured servicemen and women was overshadowed by a Veterans’ Administration Hospital scandal in Phoenix, Arizona, in which 40 military vets apparently died from lack of immediate care. Here is an overview of the situation:
They served their country. Now their country is supposed to serve them. But in Veteran Administration hospitals in many parts of America, military veterans languish and die for want of adequate care. The scandal of long waiting lists for health care for veterans has hit President Obama’s administration hard in recent news reports.
President Obama has been quoted as saying that he is “madder than hell” at the 40 deaths of veterans at the Phoenix, Arizona overwhelmed facility there, which apparently had put them on a long, secret waiting list for care.
There have been resignations in the wake of the crisis, with calls from both parties for the resignation of VA Secretary and former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who testified before Congress about the scandal.
President Obama has assured veterans that such mismanagement will be addressed and that former military personell will be served.*
If you look at some statistics, you will find that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that nearly 60,000 veterans are homeless on an average night, with 1.4 million at risk for homelessness. Mental Health problems also plague Vets, with statistics showing that veterans commit suicide every 80 minutes. Calls to government-sponsored suicide hotlines number in the hundreds of thousands. Post-traumatic Syndrome is a mental illness that affects many soldiers just returned from the battlefield. It can disable a soldier for years without proper treatment.
Over 1 million veterans wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been processed through VA hospitals. There is a move afoot that would allow veterans to opt out of the VA system and use vouchers to buy their insurance on the Healthcare marketplace put in place by President Obama.
The Memorial Day concert in Washington, D.C. honored, in a special on-stage tribute, servicemen who were veterans of the invasion of Normandy in World War II. Seeing these proud, old soldiers with tears in their eyes at the applause they received for their sacrifices, brought to mind the sadness of war of any kind, and their bravery in the face of what seemed to be insurmountable odds.
We owe it to veterans to make them welcome when they come home, and to care for their ills. We owe them a dignified old age and the respect they deserve. We owe them for defending freedom and democracy wherever they were called to serve.
*President Obama accepted Shinseki’s resignation, following the scandal. Sloan D. Gibson, former deputy undersecretary for Veterans Affairs, is now acting secretary.
Featured image (Happier times): Then Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki applauds, along with fellow guests, after President Barack Obama signed S.1055, a bill granting the Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II, in the Oval Office. White House official photo by Pete Souza.
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