Following the parade, not leading it
A few days ago, I received a “Capitol Update” from U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy. On the front page is an article, “Rebuilding trust at the VA,” and it includes a photo of the congressman shaking hands with veterans.
As a former Marine officer and someone who has followed veterans’ issues for years, I am as outraged and angry as every other American regarding the revelations of doctored waiting lists in the Veterans Affairs health care system. But Murphy’s front-page grandstanding is a classic example of a politician standing on the sidelines, watching the direction in which the parade is going, and then jumping out in front and pretending he is leading it.
Contrary to Murphy’s assertion that serious problems in the VA health care system are just now coming to light, serious problems within the VA bureaucracy have been known for years and have not been addressed by Congress. In 2007, numerous serious issues within the agency caused R. James Nicholson, the secretary of veterans affairs, to resign in disgrace. The pressure for him to resign came not from grandstanding politicians, but rather from major veterans organizations. Exorbitant bonuses received by VA employees, which totaled $1.5 million, proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Some received $33,000 apiece. Sound familiar?
For years, it has been known that the VA bureaucracy is grossly inept and self-serving. And backlogs of one year or more for veterans to receive care are not new. Aside from several less-than-substantive hearings on these matters, Murphy and his colleagues in the House of Representatives have done little. Not a single bill has been introduced in the House in recent years to help improve veterans’ access to health care. The U.S. Senate has made attempts to address some issues, the most recent being a bill that would have funded 27 new clinics and medical facilities and improved benefits. Unfortunately, partisan politics prevailed and the bill was blocked from coming to the floor for a vote. For the record, Sen. Bob Casey voted to send the bill to the floor, and Sen. Pat Toomey voted to block the vote.
It was a different story at the end of World War II. Despite the country being deeply in debt from the war and the economy facing an uncertain future, Congress overwhelmingly approved what has become known as the GI Bill. It built the middle class, as it provided low-cost home loans, grants for colleges and vocational training, loans to start businesses and more. It helped veterans become homeowners, engineers, architects, welders, machinists and businessmen. And it helped my father, a Navy veteran, get a business loan to start a new life. The GI Bill became law because it was the right thing to do – a way for the country to say thank you.
Today, politicians approve laws helping veterans to get their photos on the front page.