Failing to take care of veterans: No excuses

By Jayson Jacoby June 20, 2014 01:09 pm

The federal government does a pretty fair job of making sure our soldiers, when they fight on our behalf, have cartridges for their rifles and shells for their artillery.

But after the battles, when these men and women get sick, they often don’t get so much as a “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” from our supposedly grateful nation.

The widespread failures of the U.S. Veterans Administration, and in particular its medical care apparatus, are of course appalling.

People who don’t even work, much less risk their lives carrying out our country’s policies, will be sitting in a doctor’s office maybe a day or two after they notice the symptoms.

Veterans, meanwhile, wait a month.

If they’re lucky.

In Oregon, by and large, veterans are not even that fortunate.

A recent nationwide audit of VA medical centers found that some of Oregon’s centers rank among the worst of a bad lot.

Portland’s center, for instance, forced new patients to wait on average 80 days to get an appointment with a primary care doctor.

That’s the fifth-longest average wait among the 731 VA centers that were audited.

The VA debacle has spawned a predictable, and pathetic, torrent of drivel from the politicians.



None of it worth a thimble full of spit.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned May 30, conceding a “lack of integrity” in the agency he managed.

No one is surprised, I suppose, by the bureaucratic inertia that exemplifies the federal government.

Sometimes we chuckle at an especially egregious example.

But there’s nothing slightly amusing about the feds’ failure to ensure veterans get even the basic level of care which they have been promised.

An official from the Portland VA medical center told The Associated Press that the main reason veterans seeking care there have to wait so long is that 21 of the center’s 75 primary care physician slots are vacant.

“It’s been a challenge for keeping primary care providers,” Dan Herrigstad told the AP. “It’s a competitive market.”

So pay the doctors more.

And don’t tell me there’s no money because the Republicans and Democrats can’t get along in Congress.

The federal government, despite all the bickering on Capitol Hill, is spending $2.1 million to lease office space in Baker City for a few dozen BLM employees.

It’s going to spend another half a million or so more to build a new office here for Forest Service workers.

Yet our elected officials can’t figure out how to stop treating our veterans in a way that wouldn’t pass muster in some Third World countries.

This perplexes me as much as it infuriates me.

I doubt any member of Congress truly believes BLM offices are more important than veterans’ health.

Yet workers are busy hammering together a building in Baker City, while veterans bide their time.

Republicans, naturally, blame President Obama.

This is the most transparent of political ploys, but I’ve yet to hear the president or any member of his administration offer a plausible explanation for the VA system’s institutional failures.

The president’s apologists, meanwhile, cite GOP budgetary intransigence, or they point to problems that plagued the agency during George W. Bush’s tenure.

This is no more helpful to veterans than 80-day waiting periods are.

The bottom line, it seems to me, is that if the federal government, over which Obama has considerable influence, decided that no veteran should have to wait for more than a few days to get medical help, then that goal would be met.

The federal government has capacities which are, for all intents and purposes, limitless.

It is often compared, in a useful if shopworn analogy, to a leviathan ship which has immense momentum but is slow to change directions.

But here’s the thing: Our military also owns squadrons of supersonic jet fighters. Those things can turn fast enough to just about liquefy your guts if you’re strapped into the cockpit.

What our veterans need now is for someone in Washington, D.C., to head over to the VA headquarters and start punching up some administrative afterburners.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald.