Memorial Day is a time to remember the sacrifices this country’s men and women have made fighting in the name of freedom. Whether those battles were fought on American soil, as during the Civil War, or abroad, on this day Americans should pause to honor that sacrifice.
The struggle for freedom continues to this day in Afghanistan, where Americans are still becoming casualties as they fight to keep that country from falling into extremist hands. The U.S. presence there is winding down, but even a full troop withdrawal this year would not mean that the women and men serving this country are out of harm’s way. Members of the military are on station around the world.
Today is a special day with ceremonies and parades to commemorate those brave men and women who died for this country. But it is also an opportunity to remember those veterans still with us, and who need our help.
At times, this country falls short of its responsibility toward our veterans, most notably the series of scandals enveloping the Department of Veterans Affairs. The worst involves what may be the systematic falsification of data at some VA facilities to hide lengthy wait times for veterans to see doctors.
Other problems range from the chronic backlog in dealing with disability claims and instances of poor care at some veterans hospitals. In Western New York, it was the improper reuse of insulin pens. That unconscionable practice exposed veterans to the possibility of infection. Also last year, thousands of patient files at VA hospitals in Buffalo and Batavia were misplaced or damaged.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is a decorated combat veteran who received the Purple Heart for wounds inflicted in Vietnam. However, he has shown that he is not up to the job of running the sprawling VA bureaucracy. Firing Shinseki will not solve the VA’s deep-seated problems, but it’s a necessary first step.
Congress has a role to play in improving care for veterans, including ending the almost annual ritual of delayed appropriations that undermine the Disabled American Veterans’ ability to deliver critical programs and services.
Garry Augustine, DAV Washington headquarters director, put it best when he said that the harm veterans have suffered from budget gridlock may be more an accidental byproduct of political dysfunction than intentional hurt, but “that doesn’t excuse those responsible. Rather than choosing between left and right, this is about doing the proper thing – keeping our end of the sacred compact made to those who served our country.”
Congress should pass the Putting Veterans Funding First Act, which would guarantee the VA receives timely funding each year for those essential programs, benefits and services.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and John Boozman, R-Ark., has been approved by the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees with overwhelming support, but has yet to reach the floor of either chamber for a vote.
Without that legislative fix, VA officials are in the dark about how much money they will receive, or when, to manage disability claims processing, compensation benefits, information technology, construction, medical and prosthetic research and cemetery administration.
Ceremonies honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice are being held across Western New York. As we bow our heads in recognition of their heroics, we should also resolve to care properly for our veterans by ensuring that the proper resources are in place to do so.