Problems with obtaining medical treatment for veterans from the VA have been perennial. But the quality of service is spotty. Some VA facilities are noted for providing top medical services to their patients. Others have perennial problems and are snarled up in the dysfunction that bureaucracies tend to breed and promulgate.
South Dakota has had its problems. My spouse is a former staff member for Sen. Daschle and Rep. Herseth Sandlin. As I am a veteran, as was her father, she often related problems with health care that veterans asked for help with from the congressional staffs. Tom Daschle, a veteran himself, was a national leader in solving problems veterans faced. When the Department of Defense and VA denied that Agent Orange had inflicted harm upon soldiers exposed to it, Tom Daschle mounted a campaign among medical authorities and affected veterans to make a scientific investigation into Agent Orange and how it affects humans. That effort led to the recognition of injuries and damages caused by Agent Orange and required the VA to provide diagnostic services and treatment for it. That experience with Agent Orange laid the foundation for recognizing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as an illness caused by experiences in the military service.
South Dakota has had its difficulties with the VA. A case that comes to mind because my spouse was involved in working on it was the problems veterans in the Aberdeen area had with access to VA medical care. They had to travel the 200 miles to Sioux Falls, which imposed a tremendous burden when follow-up care was required. The congressional staff filed its regular reports on their work with veterans and the issues they faced and they registered on Tom Daschle. They recognized that for effective and quick treatment, Aberdeen needed a VA clinic. The funds and orders were arranged by Daschle and Aberdeen now has a clinic staffed by local medical personnel. Sen. Tim Johnson supported and participated in the efforts to provide medical care to the veterans.
Following Tom Daschle’s lead, Herseth Sandlin also made veteran’s issues a priority in her efforts to serve her constituents. Alas, we do not have that kind of attention paid and effort exerted by our Congressional representatives. That attention involves monitoring the VA facilities to see that they don’t fall into bureaucratic dysfunction. Bureaucracies in their management tend to bring out the worst in humankind. Not just government bureaucracies. Corporate bureacracies are the worst.
The problem with Gen. Eric Shinseki is that he was a general. He gave an order that any veteran seeking medical help from the VA must be provided an appointment within 14 days. When a general sends down such an order through the chain of command, subordinates will make it happen or their asses will be roasted on an open fire like Christmas chestnuts. Gen. Shinseki assumed that an order sent down the VA bureaucracy would be treated like a general order issued in the army. It did not seem to occur to him that if the bureaucracy hit some snags, the bureaucrats would not inform him, but would create a way to hide their nonperformance so they would not jeopardize any bonuses coming to them. Their greed and dishonesty had a higher priority than ailing veterans trying to get treatment.
The New York Times has a record of reports detailing problems within the VA dating back 15 years.
When we had Congressional representatives who actually monitored and acted upon veterans’ affairs, progress was made. But now two of our three Congress people only make the set speeches provided them by party hacks regarding the intrusions of government into healthcare, and they vote against appropriations that would help bring the VA up to an effective standard of service. Neither do they have staff members who intervene when veterans need help in obtaining treatment and who report their work so their bosses in Congress know the issues involving the VA.
While some personnel in the VA did not do their jobs and ignored veterans to pursue their greed and dishonesty, while withholding information from Gen. Shinseki, the real culprit is Congress. Unlike Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, they did not do their jobs and carry out their responsibilities.
But they are what the people of South Dakota want.