My cousin came home in a coffin from Vietnam in 1968 and Memorial Day has been rough on me ever since.
I often work on that day to keep my mind off the multiple questions that still arise after 46 years, such as why and what could have been?
It’s bad enough dealing with all of that, but now it has become obvious that if he had survived, he might have died anyway at the hands of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The recent allegations that VA hospitals kept secret waiting lists that may have caused some to die before getting treatment doesn’t surprise me.
Friends of mine who went to Vietnam have often told me about how the VA threw up as many roadblocks as it could to deny them medical care when they returned from the horrors of war.
They were often told the system was overloaded with World War II and Korean veterans and there was only so much the VA could do. The only way some of them finally got help came after the VA admitted that Agent Orange was a toxin causing numerous problems in veterans and needed to be addressed.
Closer to home, I have a relative who volunteered for the Navy right after Vietnam with the requisite promise that VA medical help would be available after she got out of the service. That relative still gets letters saying she is not yet eligible for VA medical benefits although she has been out of the Navy for 35 years.
While the VA often came through for World War II and Korean War veterans, it is just now delivering to some who served in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and the years in between.
There have been many from the recent wars who found out what a bureaucratic nightmare dealing with the VA is and did what many have done before them over the last 50 years. That is to simply give up trying to get the benefits they earned after putting their lives on the line.
One could argue that the VA has simply been overwhelmed with the amount of veterans in the country.
World War II and Korean produced many and a lot of them lived longer with VA benefits because of modern medicine. Vietnam brought another large group, often because helicopters got those wounded back to hospitals quickly. The recent wars are only adding to the backlog for care.
What isn’t being said about the numbers problem is that Congress and government officials did not have enough vision to expand the VA system enough to help all these people they promised care to.
It’s similar to state and local governments now in trouble because they didn’t see what large pensions would do to their yearly spending if the economy ever took a downturn, which it did.
What’s strange there is that anyone with any knowledge of the history of economics knows it is a continuous cycle of boom, bust and rebuilding which must be taken into account for the long run.
That cycle has occurred several times since World War II and happened many times before it. This is not, as they say, rocket science.
What the VA has lacked is vision into the future. Congress and presidents haven’t funded the VA for the expansion it so desperately needed to keep their promise to those who served.
At this juncture government officials have only two choices.
Stop enticing people to serve their country if you can’t deliver promises for their future, or back up the promises with sufficient vision and cash.
It’s really that simple in the end. The alternative is the abhorrent quagmire the VA has become.