Memorial Day seems like a good day to check in on the Veterans Administration. How is the federal agency charged with helping out veterans, and showing them that we truly appreciate their service on our behalf, doing?
Here’s an indication: last week, the Secretary of the Veterans Administration got withering criticism from people at all points on the political spectrum when he compared the inexcusably long wait times at VA facilities to vacationers waiting in line at Disney theme parks. At a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C., VA Secretary Robert McDonald said: “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” Sure . . . let’s compare veterans waiting forever for medical care for life-threatening ailments and conditions to the winding lines at the Magic Kingdom. Makes you wonder if Robert McDonald shouldn’t change his first name to Ronald.
It’s hard to believe somebody so tone deaf could become the Secretary of an important federal agency, but let’s face it — we don’t exactly have the best and brightest staffing up our public service jobs these days. At least McDonald had the good sense to apologize for an incredibly stupid comparison.
I don’t think we should overreact to one dim-witted comment by some functionary, of course, but I do think McDonald’s statement illustrates a core issue with the VA: unfortunately, it’s just not that high a priority. It doesn’t attract the most talented and dedicated people, people who understand that we have an obligation to our veterans and just aren’t living up to our end of the bargain. So we end up with administrators who, over the years, have let VA health care facilities deteriorate and veteran wait times grow. We’ve got issues with the VA’s approach to prescribing drugs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And now we’ve got a guy who makes ignorant comparisons of veterans needing medical care to families waiting in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Two years after the most recent major VA scandal, has any progress really been made? In the midst of a presidential campaign, we’ll get the speeches about needing to do a better job for our veterans, and taking care of our veterans, but we’ve been getting those speeches for years, without any noticeable success or progress.
Sometimes I think the Department of Veterans Affairs should be renamed the Department of Lip Service, because that seems to be our focus. When will we stop talking about honoring our commitment to our veterans, and actually do right by them?