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Where is the justice for veterans?

May 26, 2014

The current VA scandal is just that…another scandal in a long line of recent scandals. What makes it different from all the others is that ordinary people, just like ones you may know, died because of it.

It may be hard for the regular Joe to get incensed over the deaths of four government employees in Benghazi, or to care very much about the rights of nonprofits they don’t know about or support, but nearly every American knows someone who has either been in the military, is on active duty, or who is related to a military person.

Today is Memorial Day. It is the national day of recognition for the men and women who stood between us and the people who would destroy us, until they could stand no more. That’s nice, but it honors those who are beyond the pale of further suffering. Who memorializes the living?

The VA is supposed to serve those military personnel that do make it back home. If our military served us like the VA serves them, it wouldn’t be the Stars and Stripes flying over the U.S. capital. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a new problem; the VA has a long history of scandal and mismanagement.

Despite all the carefully scripted, quickly forgotten speeches and sound-bite-worthy  declarations of outrage,  it is a very good bet that nothing will really change at the VA as long as the government that runs the VA  is investigating it.

There will probably be a few token people disciplined, and the Phoenix VA administrator, Sharon Helman, had to return her bonus. Maybe General Shinseki will lose his job. Big deal.

This practice of preventing people from getting appointments, much less care, has reportedly  killed people. Whether that number is four, forty or four hundred, and whether they were already terminally ill or not, is secondary to the issue. In fact, it would be interesting to see what percentage of the delayed or ignored requests for appointments were already suffering from incurable illnesses.

If a private medical facility and staff does this and derives a profit from it, they don’t just lose their job or a few bucks. They get charged with a crime and if convicted, they go to jail.

At the very least, secret lists and cooked books that result in monetary gain for the offenders is fraud. At the worst it is a deliberate, premeditated act that contributed to wrongful or untimely deaths.

The likelihood that any of these bureaucrats will serve time for those offenses is slim to none if the DOJ under Eric Holder has anything to say about it. Auto parts price fixing  is a big deal for the DOJ, because  it focuses on businesses. The VA scandal is all about government.  

If past history is any indicator of future performance, they will stall as long as possible, fire or reassign a few people, make a few speeches, throw some more money at the VA, and hope that appeases the public. That’s not justice.

The VA already has the third largest budget in the government, at 150.7 billion dollars. The VA reports about 9 million vets use the VA medical system annually. That’s about $16,744 for each veteran, and while that might be less than is needed to provide complete and adequate medical care for every vet, all 9 million don’t come in every day.  And they don’t have enough people or equipment to see them even for an appointment?

It would seem that if the VA needs more money, the best way to get it would be to report the backlogs accurately, not hide the numbers to get a good performance review.

It is interesting that the first “fix” reportedly authorized by the VA turned out to be allowing the veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA system.

Obviously, too much of that 150.7 billion-dollar budget is stuck  to a lot of fingers. And  it isn’t just the government’s piggy bank that stands to be injured.

Management of its own internal bureaucratic processes isn’t the government’s strong suit at any time, and they have probably never been less well managed than under this administration. It’s a lot more fun to manage school lunches or give a campaign speech.

At some point, someone has to pay the piper for incompetent management. The question is, how do we go about getting that done? It’s not for sure that Congress is going to get it done, at least not in the next few years. Even if they try, there’s that convenient “ongoing investigation” excuse.

It is very difficult to sue the government, which is why more people don’t initiate such suits. Additionally, military personnel sign a document that prevents them from suing the government because they get injured in combat, which is why it is unlikely that any single living veteran is going to attempt to sue the Department of Defense or the VA over this.

Suing people as private citizens is a lot easier. All the Helman-types in the VA can be sued as private citizens, the same way other professionals are sued. It would be pretty hard for the government to defend them as being government employees just doing their job, since that would be tantamount to saying that they had tacit approval or even orders from their superiors to commit criminal acts. In an open trial, somebody will probably make a deal to avoid prosecution and more of the facts will come out.

It seems that with all the ambulance chasing lawyers, justice-seeking nonprofits, and veterans groups out there, the families should be able to expose the depth of the problem and its consequences in open court, either collectively or individually. If forty people died in Phoenix due to this misconduct, forty families ought to be able to have their day in an Arizona court.

That’s hardly the ideal way to dump all the garbage out of the pail, but it may be the only way. 

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