A culture of taking responsibility cannot exist in a culture of blame and recrimination.
“The buck stops here” and “If you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen” were popularized by Harry S. Truman, the thirty-third President. Truman took responsibility for the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II – one of history’s great controversies.
There is little confidence in our federal government today because politicians are quick to take credit and slow to admit responsibility. Instead a culture of blame and recrimination permeates the Belt Way.
The latest scapegoat is Veteran’s Affairs figurehead Gen. Eric Shineski, VA secretary, forced to resign May 30 because of delays and falsifying reports within the health care for veterans. The secretary serves at the volition of the president.
A government audit lists 57,000 U.S. military veterans waited 90 days or more for the first VA medical appointments, and an additional 64,000 appear to have never gotten appointments after enrolling. It also shows falsifying records in 13 percent of 731 hospitals and outpatient clinics reporting waiting periods shorter than actual.
The VA has underlying symptoms that cannot be cured by a figurehead administrator: Congress controls the purse strings, establishes the rules and laws and often adds to costs; and, it is a bureaucracy that creates delays and determines eligibility – often sight unseen.
The Greatest Generation survived the Great Depression, won World War II and set a blueprint to live by. They embraced responsibility and dismissed credit they deserved.
As our mentors are succumbing to age, my generation and their children are straying from that blueprint.
There were 16 million members of the military who survived WW II, 670,000 with non-mortal wounds. Another 405,000 died. The National WWII museum estimates one million are living, but dying about 555 a day. There were 19,464 alive in Wisconsin entering 2014.
The VA serves 22 million veterans, with 9 million enrollees in the health care system. The system includes 23 integrated service networks, 153 medical centers, 1,400 community based outpatient clinics and 6.5 million unique patients treated in 2013.
Controversy and delays have been a symptom for years.
A prime case are the problems Vietnam era veterans had in getting treatment for long-term effects of Agent Orange, applied to plants “in an orange cloud and turning green foliage black – defoliating, killing plant life – overnight.”
It was used despite long-standing evidence of its labeling as a weapon of mass destruction as early as WWII. The government joined manufacturers in denying the cause of illness and death that mounted in the 1960s and ‘70s.
About 2.6 million U.S. military served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1973 and an additional 514,000 served in waters off the coast. The first lawsuit filed by a veteran was in 1978, after a claim was denied by the VA.
On May 7, 1984 the class action was settled without defendants admitting culpability.
Paul Reutershan, 28, filed the initial Agent Orange law suit after his claim to the VA was denied and being unable to sue the government or VA because the law exempts them from tort suits. He died in December 1978, but Agent Orange Victims International that he organized carried on the court fight.
Ron Popke, a veteran from New London, said he served on “brown water” inside Vietnam’s border. He provided the quote describing Agent Orange. His initial application was denied by the VA.
“Some died waiting. They belong on the (Vietnam Memorial) wall, too,” he said.
Once his claim was approved, Popke said, he had excellent care and did not experience delays or treatment headlining the news today.
“I have had no problem at all,” he said. “I visit the clinic (in Appleton) every two weeks and see the doctor twice a year for a complete physical.
“I have been treated at the VA hospital in Milwaukee and it has been excellent.
I had a tumor on a pituitary gland and the VA did not have the ability to treat it. I was referred to Froedert Hospital for special care and they operated and removed the tumor.”
Treatment at the Clement A. Zablocki VA Medical Center, which includes the clinics, provides care to about 62,000 veterans a year. More than 70,000 enrolled opt to get care elsewhere. Records show 96 percent of clinic patients are seen within 30 days.
The VA also has medical centers in Madison and Tomah, and 98 percent of those appointments were scheduled within 30 days.
A poll on the public’s diagnosis reveals concern that Democrats and Republicans are more interested in scoring political points than solving the problems at the VA, with 51 percent very concerned and 31 percent some what concerned.
We would not tolerate the red tape that delays initial examination and treatment of potentially life threatening illness. We owe these people, who put their lives on the line to keep us safe, at least health care to save their lives.
It is our responsibility to do at least what the Greatest Generation would do.