By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
In 2003, we were lied into a war with Iraq. Just about everyone now admits that. At the same time that we were being lied into the war, the then Bush administration was cutting benefits to veterans. This was such an odd set of circumstances. At a point when the U.S. was preparing for war, at a point when one must expect casualties, the Bush administration cut benefits.
The current crisis in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has been described as a situation of long waits, in some cases allegedly leading to the deaths of patients, cannot be understood in the absence of a discussion of funding cuts, insufficient funding, and retaliation against workers who have identified the depth of the problems at the VA. In fact, it is fair to say that many of the most vocal critics of the VA, on the Republican side of the aisle, were equally unwilling to fund the VA to the extent that it has needed funding. Why?
The VA gets very high marks from veterans for the actual service that it delivers. Their expertise with physical, emotional and psychological wounds and injuries simply cannot be matched in the non-VA health care systems. It is, in effect, one stop shopping. This, however, is an anathema to many conservatives who wish to see all healthcare privatized. It is for that reason that in the midst of the current VA crisis, there are those who are suggesting a voucher-like system for veterans rather than actually fixing the problems. These critics would rather dismantle the VA and hand out vouchers, than repair a system that has worked for thousands of veterans.
In order for the VA to be repaired, however, the career managers have to be punished for retaliating against whistleblowers within the workforce. VA workers, many of who are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, have spoken up to identify some of the problems that are currently coming to light, only to face various forms of retaliation from management.
One must ask the question of whether career managers who have watched the juggernaut of privatization proceed down the tracks since the time of the Bush administration, are more interested in preparing their own nests in the private sector over ensuring that veterans receive the service to which they are entitled. How else can one explain retaliating against workers who speak up?
The VA needs to be repaired, rather than dismantled. Veterans need improved and prompt service. But this also means that the atmosphere of panic that has been spread by both the Republicans and many people in the media must halt. Here is an example of why. Part of the reason for delays in care was the direct result of the expansion in VA service to veterans facing disabilities that had previously not been fully covered, e.g., Agent Orange; Gulf War Syndrome. Yet, this has not been discussed in the mainstream media, most likely because to raise the fact that the VA was now serving additional veterans would beg a simple question: Why is the VA not receiving additional resources in order to accomplish its mission?
It makes you wonder…
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is an employee of the American Federation of Government Employees but this column does not necessarily represent their views. Follow Bill on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.