As we’ve seen this week, big companies capitalize on the notion that buying their stuff is the way to honor veterans.
Sleep Number, the mattress merchant, offers a “Veterans Day Special Edition Bed,” with SleepIQ technology, for $1,599.98 through Sunday.
Eddie Bauer marked down “Everything up to 50% off” for Veterans Day.
Sears pushes “hot deals,” with refrigerator prices cut by up to 48 percent for its “Veterans Day Sales & Values.”
But these “values” don’t have anything to do with the values of those who served and sacrificed and the federal employees who care for vets. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sums up its values with an appropriate acronym — “ICARE,” for integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence.
Unfortunately, that care has too often been too slow in coming to veterans who have languished on bogus appointment lists that hid the real time they waited for service. The scandal sliced and diced the VA’s first value, “integrity,” not only for the way veterans were left waiting for service, but also because VA whistleblowers were punished for telling the truth about the department’s questionable operations.
Questionable integrity apparently also extends to Congress, as indicated by some unusually candid remarks from VA Secretary Robert McDonald in an interview with my colleague Lisa Rein.
“As someone from the corporate world, I just wasn’t used to the politics,” he said. “There are some factions that want you to fail. That was shocking to me, to see [members of Congress] behave differently in front of a camera than they were in private conversations.”
Welcome to the big leagues, Bob.
Sadly, the scandal overshadowed the good care veterans get, once they get it. During a Senate hearing at the height of the scandal in May of last year, each of seven representatives from veterans service organizations who testified said the problems were more of access to care than the quality of care.
Last week, McDonald told the story of Larry Parrish, a Vietnam vet with severe hip pain the secretary met recently in Kansas City. VA health care professionals “gave me my life back,” McDonald quoted Parrish. “They turned it around in 24 hours. They were the most comprehensive, most efficient, and the most cordial of any therapists I’ve worked with, public or private.”
Speaking at the National Press Club, McDonald provided statistics to show how access to care has improved. “Right now, 97 percent of appointments are within 30 days, 92 percent are within 14 days, 87 percent are within seven days, and 23 percent are same day,” he said. “Specialty care wait-time is six days, primary care is four days, mental healthcare is three days.”
But that improved access has led to increased demand, which means increased wait times for too many. At the same time, nearly every vet is seen within two weeks, and the number that wait more than 30 days has increased from 300,000 to 500,000 from June to June, this year over last. That could be alleviated if the VA had the additional 4,300 physicians and 10,000 nurses McDonald says it needs.
He urged congressional leaders to hold hearings on current VA operations, “rather than continuing the barrage of hearings on mistakes that occurred two years ago.”
But what happened two years ago remains relevant, because not all vets have success. There still are stories that demonstrate the VA has much work to do to properly serve those who were damaged in defense of their nation.
Marc Burgess, the chief executive and national adjutant of Disabled American Veterans, said the organization’s survey of 1,700 veterans points to “major gaps in the support, health care and disability benefits they receive. It also reveals challenges many younger veterans face finding employment. It’s clear our government and country need to step up and keep the promises made to America’s veterans.”
President Obama agrees.
While citing progress like slashing “the disability claims backlog by nearly 90 percent” and “reducing the outrage of veterans’ homelessness,” during a Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama said “I am still not satisfied.”
He shouldn’t be.
Obama spoke about honoring those who serve “through deeds every day.”
“If tomorrow, after the parades and the ceremonies we roll up the banners and sweep the veterans halls and go back to our daily lives, forgetting the bond between the service of our veterans and our obligations as citizens,” he said, “then we will be doing a profound disservice to our veterans and to the very cause for which they served.”
Buying an IQ mattress is not a deed that counts toward honoring the veterans.