America’s Veterans, Her Forsaken Sons and Daughters
Few would argue the compassion and aid extended by Washington to those who reach American soil thru war torn crisis or climbing over a border fence is generous to a fault. Their largesse however comes a bit too easy when powered by the American taxpayer and the Fed who’s on speed dial with Capitol Hill. The fiery rhetoric over the Syrian Refugee crisis and illegal immigration has re-fired a decades’ long argument that the needs of Americas Sons and Daughters, our Veteran warriors come before all. 22 million no longer wear the uniform, their service to country has ended but their sacrifice continues. A Soldier’s core belief is to “never leave a man behind” a concept no doubt foreign to Capitol Hill.
This post is fueled in part by the experiences of a United States Marine whose service began some 45 years ago during the Vietnam War. Joe whose name was adopted for this post reached out to share some of those experiences. Joe hails from Madison, Wisconsin where he enlisted in the Marine Corp. at 17. His service to country ended long ago but any Marine will tell you once a Marine always a Marine. While his challenges with the Veterans Administration are his own they reflect a common experience with millions in the VA bureaucracy that persist after the 2014 scandal that exposed the cover up, mismanagement and malpractice that attributed to the deaths of many Veterans.
Most alarming is the high rate of suicide among veterans. While competing studies vary, as many as 22 Veterans take their own lives every day. Depression and PTSD are linked directly to the high rate of suicide among Veterans. As much as 80 percent of Vietnam and 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD and or depression. These numbers are a moving target as undiagnosed cases surface every day. One common thread in the high suicide rate is the lack of consistent and regular care of Veterans. Joe wrote of his best friend back in Washington who suffers from chronic PTSD. His treatment ranges from overmedication that totally incapacitates him or under-medication that has landed him in a psychiatric ward for a month.
January 2015 El Paso, Tx. Senior psychologist Timothy Fjordback lost his life to a former employee and Veteran Jerry Serrato at the Fort Bliss VA. Serrato had filed a claim for PTSD benefits and his claim was denied. Rather than enduring the VA appeals process, Serrato filed his own final appeal with Timothy Fjordback at a local market with a Smith and Wesson and then turned his gun on himself. The GAO (Govt. Accountability Office) determined in 63 percent of patient casework (suicide cases) proper protocol wasn’t followed in documenting patient care, and follow up care suffered as a result.
While living in Washington State, Joe filed a service related appeal with the VA where it languished in the system, he then wrote to Senator (D-WA) Patty Murray for intervention and found her “responses were limited, somewhat canned”. After relocating to Colorado to live with family, Joe received a subsequent letter from Senator Murray stating he was no longer in her district. Joe’s service appeal is still pending in the black hole of the VA bureaucracy, and his last letter to Senator Murray yet to be answered may have met a similar end. Since the 2014 VA scandal of mismanagement broke, the VA budget has increased by $10 Billion, $163 Billion total, and yet wait times have increased by 50%. It’s fair to say wait times prior to the 2014 VA scandal were worse than projected. Wait times at the Phoenix VA facility may be measured in months not days or weeks. 8000 appointments in Phoenix were delayed by 90 days or more. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson admitted over all near 500,000 appointments were delayed for a month or more. These extended delays have contribute directly to the near 50,000 homeless veterans living on the streets or shelters. Many of these Veterans suffer from mental illness, PTSD/Depression, and substance abuse issues. Long delays for weeks and months, only drives them further into hopelessness.
Fear and intimidation can be found on both sides of a claim, or grievance filed with the VA. Some of Joe’s brethren Veterans are “reluctant, and afraid to speak out” for fear of additional delays in service or suspension of benefits. On the other side of the desk VA Staff providing ground level services and medical care fear reprisal from upper management for raising red flags on patient care. Whistleblowers continue to fear for their jobs at the hands of management and supervisors. Brandon Coleman a Marine Corp Veteran and employee at the Phoenix VA employee called attention to five suicidal veterans that left without proper attention. Coleman gave deposition to OSC (US Office of Special Counsel) this information then found its way to the media as a result his supervisors rewarded his efforts by accessing his personal medical records and conspiring to suspend him. The harassment continued when Coleman returned to the Phoenix VA as a patient.
Of America’s 22 Million Veterans 8.7 Million are patients in the care of the Veterans Administration. To many the VA is more than a hostile bureaucracy it is a labyrinth and gauntlet which many fail to negotiate. 50,000 homeless Veterans are living testament, that desperation is followed by hopelessness. The care of America’s Sons and Daughters are a matter of duty and honor, not philanthropy. As it is a soldier’s duty to never leave a man behind, it is Washington’s duty, a moral imperative to insure the care of our Veterans. Last year $113 billion State and Federal dollars went for care of 11 million illegal immigrants who came to America without invitation. Today Washington’s ruling class and establishment Democrats and Republicans battle for their favor in 2016. So when Joe and millions of Americans and Veterans question why America doesn’t take of care of her own first, how will the next President and new Congress respond?