Op-ed by Carleton Cronin, West Hollywood, California
“Ashes of soldiers,” Walt Whitman wrote, “South or North, as I muse retrospectively murmuring a chant in thought, the war returns again to my senses….” The memories are too easily recalled, never far from the surface of the mind.
Amidst all the Congressional showboating and calls of “off with his head!” the truth slowly emerges. The VA does not have the funds, nor the personnel, nor the facilities to keep up with the constant flow of veterans needing care. Further, it does not have the backing of Congress.
That flow is the result of continuous war for the past thirteen years and the aging of veterans from Viet Nam and Korea. There are as many as two million veterans who need some kind of attention from the federal government which seems reluctant to give the VA what it needs to provide such care.
This is not a new federal response for vets. In 1932, several thousands of out-of-work and homeless veterans of World War I converged on Washington, D.C., with bonus coupons in hand asking for Congress to pay what it had promised when it handed out the coupons. Instead, the gutless Congress snuck away and The Great Engineer, President Herbert Hoover, with a typical egalitarian backhand called up the army. It arrived under the command of a strutting Douglas MacArthur who was anxious to flex his command muscles. His number two, Dwight Eisenhower suggested a soft approach to the situation.
Not so, said MacArthur and sent his troops out to demolish the encampments, destroying the vets personal belongings and beating them into retreat.
Many vets had brought their destitute families with them so that women and children were also subject to the heavy hand of the eventual Liberator of the Philippines who, lacking a war to exercise his desires for adventure, elected to defeat people who could not fight back. After patiently waiting for twelve years for the Congress to pay them, their only reward was to see George Patton waving his sabre at them. How noble.
My maternal grandmother told me of the Great Encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic, the annual gatherings of the Union veterans of the Civil War. She told of seeing many men hobbling about with canes and crutches, others missing an arm or two. Wheeled chairs and buddies helping each other to walk about were too common. As the years went by, the number of vets at the encampments was reduced of course.
But, an interesting feature, at least in Worcester, Massachusetts then, was the appearance of older bearded men in Rebel grey, also hobbled by age and infirmity. As time passed, the animosity was reduced to admiration for each other’s courage in that terrible war. But, the government, no less corrupt then than now, found a way to take care of the old soldiers.
Even in my youth, during the 1930s, I recall that Old Soldiers Homes existed. (This was also an era when such institutions as “poor farms” and “poor homes” existed for the homeless.) What have we forgot? Were we a more understanding culture in those times?
Governments have never really been kind to the survivors of the wars they insisted needed to be fought. Even Roman emperors had their problems with weary vets. Yet, there was a time when wealthy men or ambitious men or patriotic men could raise a fighting regiment in their name, essentially “putting their money where their mouth was” and physically joining the fray.
That could never happen today, especially in our tech-driven form of fighting. Just as well. In speaking with my sons and their peers, I find a great resistance to accept war as an answer to political problems. It may be that generation which will see an end to major wars.
A friend in the upper echelons of the Veterans Administration’s healthcare system wrote to me to let me know that 85,000,000 visits, consultations and treatments were administered for vets during 2013 – and had they the facilities, staff and funding they needed, more would have been done. Congress needs to stop its showboating and call for “off with his head!”
The general in charge needs to do his job to find the problems and Congress needs to meet with his needs. The public is tiring of the noise and lack of real action in Washington.
Perhaps, in a more enlightened country heads would be set on pikes at the city gates. We do that now with innuendo, not action.
It is absolute torture to watch the feverish undulations and hysterical cries from the craven crew in our Congress, for the removal of the chief of the veteran’s Administration. The past weeks, which reverberated with their clamor for the resignation of General Shinseki, have finally brought a reward to those elected who cannot think beyond retaining their present job. It was a shameless display when one-hundred and eleven Congressmen, including Al Franken of all people, raised their voices for the general’s dismissal. Politics in action, of course.
The single champion of Shinseki was Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, the Independent who chaired the Veterans Affairs committee. He was the only person in Washington recalling Shinseki’s singular stance, when Army Chief of Staff, to object to some of Bush’s war policies, as well as his firm and decisive actions during his military career. The general is a quiet, measured, goal-oriented administrator, but not the “media queen” our politicians prefer.
Calls for his resignation came from people who, though they seem incapable of doing their own jobs, have the power to regulate the work of others in the government. That simply implies that they have no shame – and we voted (most of us) for them!
The true problem with the VA (I speak based upon my own research, personal contact and information from a friend high in the VA healthcare system) is the lack of funds for more facilities, docs and other medical folk caused by the refusal of Congress to appropriate money. Another cause of problems is the entrenched administration, made up in large part by former military, many often on their second or third dip into the honey pot of government service. That they are given “bonus money” to perform their basic jobs is an insult to us all.
This situation also underlines the inequities prevailing in the “civil service”, now (and perhaps always) a haven for those of no ambition, no integrity and, certainly, no imagination. To get rid of Shinseki is the wrong move, ‘though the masses love it. Go to where the problems exist. If one follows the logic in the general’s removal, then Congress should be removed as incompetent and the president should resign and a new government be formed.
A wonderful feature of the parliamentary form of government is that a “no confidence vote” can change the whole show and the opposition pressing at the gates can now be allowed in to see what they can do while the former incumbents scurry off to lick their wounds and regroup.
We Americans put up with too much under the guise of Democracy. We continue to allow too many “Tammany Halls” to represent us, fleece us and restrict our ability to change the situation. An old pal, a Norwegian, then in that country’s parliament, said he felt that the USA allows “too much democracy which prevents much from really going forth except excess.” It is difficult to disagree with him.