The headlines screamed from the pages of the nation’s newspapers. In November 2013, USA Today said, “Many veterans still wait weeks for mental health care.” The newspaper reported that while veterans were committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day, it took more than two weeks to get a first-time psychiatric appointment. Last month, The Washington Post reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs said more than 57,000 patients were waiting for their first visit. Alongside those reports are others that detailed veterans dying while waiting for care, VA employees coerced into falsifying documents to make the statistics look better, and myriad other issues.
It is in that backdrop that the stalemate going on in Congress is so unconscionable. The acting head of the VA, Sloan Gibson, has appeared before Congress and outlined how to fix VA problems. The fix carries a heavy price tag of $17.6 billion over the next three years. Gibson wants to hire 10,000 new clinicians and expand clinic space. Amid promises, the House and Senate approved similar measures to address VA issues, and a conference committee was appointed by each body to iron out the differences. House Speaker John Boehner said, according to the Military Times, that he was confident GOP negotiators would usher these reforms to the president’s desk while continuing their work to hold (Obama) accountable to “address systemic problems at the VA.”
Famous last words. While veterans wait, Congress fiddles. The House proposal is for $44 billion, and the Senate proposal is $35 billion. However, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., proposed an alternative that would total about $10 billion in emergency funding that would pay for expanded private care for veterans but leave the fixes for another day. That is unacceptable. This has happened time and again. The big, burning issue is explained to Washington politicians, but for some reason they find a way to talk around it, point fingers of blame, but never fix it. They sit while waiting for another self-created crisis so they can do it all over again.
No matter which side of the partisan fence anyone sits, our veterans deserve better. Washington needs to stop applying bandages and head for the surgery suite. There’s limited time to act before these fine public servants take the August recess so they can return home and spout off to constituents how good a job they’ve done.
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Already with an approval rating, according to Gallup, of 15 percent, if they leave Washington without a fix for veterans who need care right now, their constituents ought to make sure they stay home for good.