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Editorial: Today we honor those who have served

For Veterans Day 2017, Buffalo has a gift to the nation, even as the nation continues to fall short in its treatment of some of those who served in the country’s armed forces.

The gift is late in coming and it’s hard not to wonder why it’s being given in Buffalo and not Washington, D.C., but it is welcome nonetheless: By this time next year, a monument honoring the military service of African-Americans will be installed at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park at Canalside. The monument will honor veterans in all services, whether they served in peacetime or in any of the nation’s wars.

This is the first such monument in the nation, according to Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and, while some critics will surely protest the idea of honoring veterans by their race, the sad truth is that African-Americans’ contribution to the military has been too little noted. This monument can help to change that.

African-Americans served bravely in all our wars. Some 9,000 black troops fought for America during the Revolution, and 180,000 fought for the Union in the Civil War. African-American troops served during both world wars, but in segregated units. Those histories deserve telling. The monument will be a clue to some who see it that there is a larger story.

It’s a heartening development that Americans continue to find ways to honor those who have served, but much more needs yet to be done. Recent scandals at veterans hospitals are a case in point. Veterans are still receiving substandard care while the Department of Veterans Affairs has concealed mistakes and incompetence from patients.

A recent story in USA Today revealed that for years the VA has failed to report errors and even misdeeds by staff members involved in the care of veterans.

In one example, a podiatrist named Thomas Franchini repeatedly mistreated patients – drilling the wrong screw into the bone of one veteran, severing a critical tendon in another, cutting into patients who didn’t need surgeries. Two times, the paper reported, he fused the ankle of a woman improperly. She had her leg amputated rather than endure the pain.

Indeed, the VA found 88 cases in which Franchini made mistakes that harmed veterans at the Togus hospital in Maine. Yet, despite concluding that he was “a dangerous surgeon,” he was allowed to resign and move into private practice, while the VA failed for years to disclose his record to patients and state regulators. As of last month, he was working as a podiatrist in New York City.

There were many other such instances. Meanwhile, the VA’s latest ranking show most hospitals that had the poorest quality scores in 2016 showed little or no improvement this year. This is how America treats those who have been willing to risk everything for their country?

It’s fair to expect that institutional improvements can take more than one year, but impatience is necessary. Veterans are being harmed, either through neglect or incompetence, and it’s up to the taxpayers who fund their care to demand better.

Americans in uniform are still serving in dangerous places around the world, and they continue to die. They have committed themselves to service, the consequences of which can be mortal for them and disastrous for their families. It is more than appropriate to take a moment today to remember their sacrifices and to thank them for their service.

But it is essential to act on their behalf by insisting to senators, House members and the president that they do more to improve care for America’s ailing veterans.

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