Memorial Day weekend is that time to remember our veterans, the service they rendered to pay the price of freedom – sometimes with their blood, their limbs, even their lives.
Once a year, we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, those who lost their lives in service to our country. As we remember those brave souls, we also honor all members of the armed forces for the sacrifices they made while they put careers on hold and left spouses and children behind to fight in foreign lands. We sent them off to put their lives on the line and risk not only their safety but their families’ security.
These men and women swore an oath to defend the Constitution. As a soldier, they cannot question their orders. They must go where told and do as ordered. If The Man says take that hill, they take it or die trying.
When they go, they feel there is a contract with those of us who stay behind who carry on in “business as usual” style. They have to know that we at home have their back. That is the moral contract we make with our soldiers.
Implicit in that contract was the assurance that when they came home we would do more than give them a salute, a pat on the back and send them on their way. We promised to bind their wounds, both physical and mental.
On Memorial Day, we like to think we have done right by them. They have the G.I. Bill, they have their disability pensions if wounded and they have the Veterans Administration to see to their needs incurred through their service.
We have failed many of our veterans in so many ways. Whistleblowers are in the news now showing that many of our VA hospitals cooked the books. Not to hide theft of funds. No, it is far worse than that. They couldn’t provide the care demanded in a timely fashion, so they hid the fact that veterans died waiting for promised care that would never come.
On paper the VA looked fine. And that is the problem. In bureaucracies, if it looks good on paper, then that becomes the reality. That is the mentality that has VA officials keep one set of records showing it treated people who actually had been denied treatment and the secret lists of those who are literally dying to be seen by VA.
Really? Is this America? We act so shocked that this would happen. Congress is already on the warpath, looking for scapegoats and doing what they do best – pointing the finger at the other party.
President Barack Obama campaigned on turning the VA around, but has nothing substantive has changed in his six years in office. It remains a national disgrace.
Military personnel lead the nation in suicides – now at 22 a day. Some military families go on welfare while the spouse is deployed.
Reservists who originally were formed to be the emergency force are now routinely deployed because our standing army is too small to do the job. Yet we have more generals than any nation on the planet.
The reality is the VA and the military establishment have been woefully deficient in caring for our veterans at least since the Vietnam era. We have more than enough money for more aircraft carriers, more tanks and more planes. But the veterans don’t have that kind of pull.
The military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us of has always taken care of its own. But when it comes to funding the needs of the veterans and their families, Congress and the military have always fallen short.
Apologists point out that the VA funding is based on a formula and allocates billions for VA care. But it is obvious to everyone that it is inadequate. Yet nothing is done.
These allegations are nothing new. They have been a constant source of exposes, headlines and 60 Minutes-type documentaries. We go tsk-tsk, and wait for the unpleasantness to go away. And it soon does.
So don’t worry. The blather and the posturing of politicians and bureaucrats will continue until the headlines die down. Then it will be VA business as usual. It is what has always happened.
And this time next year, we’ll play the martial music, wave the flag and everyone’s conscience will be clear for another year.
Meanwhile our veterans and their families will hobble back alone to face crowded O.D. green waiting rooms and to fight the red tape and bureaucratic indifference. Isn’t it a source of relief Memorial Day only comes once a year?