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Supporting The Troops?

bush-va.thumbnail.jpgHere’s a really sad story:

Surviving spouses of war veterans have been wrongfully denied up to millions of dollars in government benefits over the past 12 years due to computer glitches that often resulted in money being seized from the elderly survivors’ bank accounts.

James Peake, the current Secretary for Veterans Affairs, has promised and delivered action to fix this problem, but it took the intervention of Senator Daniel Akaka to get him started on it.  Though really, Peake is an improvement on Jim Nicholson, who was his predecessor as VA chief.  Both men are veterans, but Peake is also a medical doctor with an extensive career in Army hospital administration; Nicholson got the job largely because he was chair of the Republican National Committee. Even worse, Nicholson’s predecessor — Bush’s first VA chief — was Anthony Principi, whose latest stint in the news was when the private contracting firm he now heads, QTC Management Inc., was cited in an audit for overbilling the Veterans Administration to the tune of $6 million.

Frankly, after eight years of malignant neglect even as veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan flood the system, it’s amazing the VA isn’t more messed up than it is.  But then again, the VA isn’t the only military-related victim, or even the most injured one, of Bush’s two terms in the White House.  Our National Guard and Reseves programs are hollowed-out shells of what they were in 2000.

General Shinseki, as the presumptive new head for the Veterans Administration, will have his hands full making it what it could and should be.  George W.  Bush had eight long years to undo the work Bill Clinton did to fix the VA.   But it’s by no means a hopeless case.  Far from it:  Studies done during the first years of George W. Bush’s White House tenure (before he had a chance to really do damage to the system)  show that the VA consistently beats private hospitals in nearly every quality measure.  (In case you’re wondering:  The crumbling Walter Reed hospital is run not by the VA, but by the Army — or rather, by those private contractors the Republicans love so much, especially for their campaign contributions.  Yet the Republicans, in order to attack the VA — because they rightly fear that its success would show Americans that "socialized medicine" when done right is a very good thing indeed — constantly pretend that Walter Reed is part of the VA system.)

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