Commentary

Two Years After the VA Scandal: Where Are We Now?

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In April of 2014, reports and rumors of the mistreatment of veterans through the VA hospitals surfaced when CNN first broke that around 40 United States veterans passed away while waiting for treatment through the hospitals. By June, these numbers and more had been confirmed. And then launched the summer of the VA scandal.

Thousands of veterans across the country were kept waiting by VA hospitals for care-some even died during this time period. More crimes and cover-ups were exposed, and it was discovered how poorly our veterans were being treated by our government. Everyday citizens, as well as Washington’s elite, expressed their outrage with these acts. President Obama claimed he “would not stand for it” regarding the neglect and mistreatment of our veterans through the broken VA system.

Department of Veterans Affairs workers were either fired or forced to resigned. Other heads went rolling during that tumultuous summer. Fast forward almost two years, and the topic of veterans and their well-being is still an issue among politicians, veterans and non-veterans alike. Many are wondering if there been much progress and improvement in VA hospitals’ accountability and the quality of care for our veterans over the last two years.

As the daughter of a career Air Force fighter pilot, veteran’s affairs policy has resonated with me since I was a young girl. I learned early on that a nation’s first obligation to its people is to provide for their defense. Although I cherished my time growing up in a military family, I got to see first-hand some of the sacrifices asked of military families and understand the importance of our nation’s commitment to our military and veterans.

My grandfather is a disabled veteran and I know how important the care he receives from the Veteran’s Administration is. Our country has a sacred duty to see our veterans receive the support and care they’ve earned. During the time the scandal broke, I worked in a D.C. congressional office. From within the office, I saw firsthand how it affected the veterans in my state as well as those throughout the country.

Even with government workers responsible for the scandal terminated and new leadership put in place, the root problems still seem to be in place. Veterans still struggle with wait times for care and many veterans still do not have proper access to these facilities. President Obama’s claim that he “wouldn’t stand for it” doesn’t seem to be holding much weight as of now.

It’s disappointing these problems have all occurred under the Obama Administration, and the President’s hand in fixing this has perhaps not been as strong as it should be. But the Executive is not the only branch in the spotlight regarding this issue.

There has been recent movement in Congress to address these pressing issues. Last month, there was bipartisan legislation introduced called Veterans First Act. The Veterans First Act would allegedly expand caregiver programs for veterans and it would increase the amount of accountability for VA hospitals and staff.

Senator John McCain, a very outspoken voice when it comes to the members of our armed forces, spoke against the bill. He said the amount of accountability still isn’t enough. Accountability (seems to be a buzz word when discussing VA policy and reform) is about the ratio of VA employees being fired and why.

Interestingly enough, Senator McCain received similar backlash for his version as well. The opposition was rooted in the same claims of “not enough accountability” and other technicalities. It’s interesting how fixed the members of Congress are regarding accountability and punishing those responsible. Maybe our members need to take a step back and evaluate their legislation to remember why it was drafted in the first place.

Two years later, the problems first exposed in the VA Scandal of 2014 are being addressed, but real change is coming about at far too slow of a pace because Washington is caught up in the bureaucracy and technicalities of these potentially impactful bills. Prosecuting those responsible for mishandling the care of our veterans is important, but seeing that our men and women in uniform receive the health care and support they need and deserve should be the upmost priority.

Veterans are the backbone of the United States of America. They risked their lives time and time again to make sure this country stays safe. And as a way to show our appreciation, it is critical that we take care of our veterans.

Whether it’s lending a helping hand after they return from deployment, or simply saying “thank you,” consideration and care can go a long way.

About Lauren Stimpert

Lauren is a senior at Bates College. She currently serves as the Vice President of the Bates College Republicans as well as the Secretary for the Maine Federation of College Republicans. She is a New Hampshire native and self-identified political junkie.

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