The news this week coming out of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been never-ending, and not one bit of it has been good. Rather, this week saw the horrifying report that a Wisconsin VA medical center may have exposed nearly 600 veteran dental patients to HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
More VA news at the start of the week also saw growing veteran frustration with president-elect Donald Trump’s plan to overhaul the VA. This, in addition to Trump’s seeming avoidance to meet personally with U.S. veterans and veteran advocacy groups. Many vets are fearful that the next president will not hear them voice their post-service health concerns.
Monday afternoon, the Government Accounting Organization (GAO) concluded that VA medical centers are also failing women soldiers. According to the report, women soldiers lack basic standards of adequate healthcare, including access to gynecologists and sex-specific procedures, such as breast examinations.
Monday also saw the quitting of 4 VA staff members at an Oklahoma VA medical center shortly after 1 of the facility’s veteran residents died of sepsis, and was found with maggots in an open wound.
In short, this has been an especially disappointing week for veterans in need of care who are dealing with injuries, disabilities, and mental health issues. While bad news out of the VA has been steady for many years, it is disappointing that more and more bad news continues to pour out of the organization — now, at a seemingly rampant rate.
Where Is the Accountability?
Federal officials this week identified 1 dentist at the Tomah (WI) VA Medical Center who improperly re-used his own dental equipment as opposed to using new, sterilized, disposable tools as required by the rules of the VA.
Victoria Brahm, the acting medical director of the facility, said in a press conference this week, “It was purposeful that he was violating VA regulations.” The VA dentist in question has since resigned, according to local sources. The dentist will also be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.
The story of the VA dentist prompted U.S. Speaker of the House and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to speak out: “This news,” he said in a statement, “is not only heartbreaking; it’s outrageous. How can our veterans be treated so carelessly and where is the accountability?”
The VA News Keeps Getting Worse, and Veterans Need Our Help
While on the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump promised veterans around the country that when he was elected, vets would receive a healthcare card that could be used at any hospital facility in the U.S.
Sounds good on the surface, right?
Well, a growing number of veterans and advocacy groups are voicing their concerns over Trump’s proposed model because its highest-profile plan — freeing vets from strictly receiving VA care—would, according to them, be the government’s first step toward total privatization of veteran healthcare, a move that could ultimately lead to the department’s complete dismantling.
Protecting Veterans Both New and Old
This week’s VA news affects all branches of the U.S. military: Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard. It’s important not to overlook the thousands of older-generation soldiers that still need the VA’s help, too. These are the brave soldiers who fought in the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars. May other soldiers and military personnel also worked in military facilities building our planes and tanks; shipyard workers, too, toiled away for decades constructing the massive ships of the strongest Navy in the world.
Not only are many of these older-generation veterans are still battling ailments, both physical and mental, and many others are suffering from slow-growing diseases, including cancer.
American soldiers have a long history of being exposed to asbestos on U.S. bases or at U.S. military facilities, which includes many of our country’s shipyards. Exposure to asbestos can lead to lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive asbestos-caused cancer that attacks the linings of the lungs.
Veterans suffering from mesothelioma make up a third of all cases in the U.S. Often, these veterans have a life expectancy of 6 months to 1 year after discovery, though this can be extended with better care and treatment options. And that starts with the VA.
A Shameful Narrative Unfolding for America’s Bravest
Simply put: The Department of Veterans Affairs has been and continues to be a disappointment for many retired military personnel. Rightly so, U.S. veterans — the brave men and women who signed up to put their lives on the line in order to protect the freedoms that Americans hold so dear — are being regretfully left behind to fend for themselves.
Still, while the VA is a good resource for some, and an incredible resource in theory, recent news only goes to show us that the department has much room for improvement. Let us hope that in the coming days, months, and years, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs goes from being incredible in theory, to incredible in real life.
This is what we owe our brave men and women. Not because many of them are sick or injured or suffering, but because they are our heroes, and now it is our turn to protect them.