We tear up at the emotional TV commercials of soldiers returning home from a deployment; our airlines allow active duty military to board planes first; our politicians do anything they can to post photos standing with our service men and women.
Americans of all persuasions love our men and women in uniform. We thank them for their service and commitment, and are quick to say they fight for our way of life and our democratic principles.
So why do they have to fight harder at home to get their basic services than they do against any enemy on the battlefield?
The shameful and despicable story of 40 veterans dying while on waitlists at a Veterans Administration center in Arizona is only the latest example of a country that routinely lets down its military.
Congress is holding hearings and demanding answers, but, truth be told, members of Congress are often part of the problem rather than the solution.
There should be no federal department operating more efficiently than the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. It should be the crown jewel of a president’s Cabinet, and the top-tier Cabinet members should value it more than any other appointment.
But the sad truth is that when a newly elected president picks his Cabinet, the VA is low on the totem poll. The Big Three — State, Defense, Department of Justice — are considered the creme de la creme; everything else is secondary. If you asked anyone in Washington, D.C., where the VA would rank with Education, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Labor and the other departments, the VA would be at the bottom of the pile.
There were high hopes when President Barack Obama named Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to run the VA. But he hasn’t able to shake the Department of Veteran Affairs out of its laissez-faire attitude, and veterans continue to be frustrated by an inept bureaucracy that is more concerned about keeping their jobs than anything else.
This latest episode and its fatal complications should lead the president and Congress to say, “Enough is enough.” Just like the Obama administration called for all hands on deck to fix Healthcare.gov, the same sense of urgency should take place to fix the problems facing the VA.
Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at http://www.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at http://www.creators.com.