“Every week, we learn of new instances in which veterans across the country were either denied care, or worse, given substandard care if they were lucky enough to make it in the doors of their VA facility in the first place,” John Cooper, press secretary for Concerned Veterans for America.
On a recent MSNBC interview with Rachel Maddow, Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton unintentionally reminded Americans of the ongoing problems surrounding the embattled Veterans’ Administration. Speaking of the scandals surrounding the VA, Hillary Clinton made a clumsy attempt to downplay the extent of the problem: (The problems have) “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be…… There have been a number of surveys of veterans and, overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment….. Nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see with the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have.” The facts, as confirmed by the VA’s own Inspector General, tell a far different story. In correcting Clinton’s mistruths we are again reminded of the ongoing and seemingly unfixable VA problems. It is time to quit rearranging the deck chairs on this Titanic, promising a new change in leadership as the panacea. We need to put Veterans’ Affairs underneath the Department of Defense. Let me explain.
First, it’s time to recognize that despite all scandals surrounding the VA over the years, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs remains broken. An estimated 307,000 veterans have died in recent years while awaiting treatment. The VA Office of Inspector General (IG) recently released shocking reports highlighting issues with facilities in Alaska, Illinois, and California. As early as October 28, 2015, inspectors found that a veteran who could not eat (due to difficulty swallowing) experienced a substantial delay in getting care at the Oxnard Outpatient Clinic at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and later died. The IG found evidence of delayed care for hundreds of patients requesting consults at that clinic. The investigation also “found that 548 neurology consults had been open for over 30 days, and nearly half of those were open over 90 days. Nearly two dozen general surgery consults were also found to have been open for more than 90 days.” This, despite a 2014 directive to resolve such consults within 90 days. The Second and Third IG Reports from Illinois and Alaska found even more egregious violations. Things are not getting better, despite Hillary Clinton’s rosy picture.
New leadership has not proved to fix the problems. It is time to recognize that the problem is with the nature of the separate Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Something a different VA Secretary will not solve. From the observations of many veterans, and confirmed by Inspector General Reports, the problem is not with most dedicated Healthcare providers like the Doctors and Nurses faithfully serving the veterans. Much of problem is at the mid and senior management levels. Unlike accountability over the Secretary of the VA, who can be ousted instantly by the President (as happened to former Chief of Staff of the Army, Eric Shinseki), the Department of Veterans’ Affairs includes various accountability issues inherent in the non-Military Federal Civil Service. Additionally, Veterans’ programs and medical disability ratings are qualified and certified while Veterans are part of the active or reserve military within the Department of Defense (DOD), and yet the Department of VA is separate from DOD, legally and culturally. When mistakes are made with programs or disability upon honorable discharg, those problems can take years to fix within the VA.
In addition to those issues, other specific problems with veterans affairs are best fixed from within DOD. First, the VA was created in the 1930s and since that time has not progressed with technology at the rate of DOD. One consulting group (Legacy Consulting), noted the “VA process and procedure platform is perhaps one level above a paper and pencil system…. software systems are archaic.” Making use of the DOD systems would be much more helpful to the efficiency and timeliness of veterans’ care. Also noted by a Legacy National Security Consulting Group Report: “At the VA, there is no integrated database integrated system connecting the VA’s to each other, or to the Social Security Administration, or the Pentagon or to locations where vital service records are stored. At issue, when a vet seeks medical service from a different VA facility, he/she must have their own complete records with them, when burial services are requested, the VA does not recognize death notices/certificates from the SSA or the Pentagon. Under the Department of Defense, connectivity and approvals are sped-up considerably.”
Veterans receiving services under Department of Defense would continue with their status as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines throughout their lives. They would remain a part of the “force structure”, and would be issuing veteran ID Cards. Veterans would also agree to become part of a strategic reserve if they are physically capable. Veterans would be served under their “brother in arms” healthcare providers. This would be in the same current VA hospital structure, but a structure commanded by military officers, with leaders accountable under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. If any hospitals fail to serve patients in a timely and efficient manner, the respective responsible commanders can be quickly relieved of command. This accountability will bring quick and decisive change. Many of the same current VA healthcare providers would remain providing veterans’ healthcare, similar to the US Army Corps of Engineers. With ID Cards, Veterans would have the ability to receive healthcare funded by DOD at civilian hospitals. The savings of eliminating the Department of VA would allow earmarked funds for veterans healthcare within DOD.
As with any revolutionary change, some would object to this solution for Veterans Affairs. However, all should recognize the status quo cannot continue. Attempting to downplay the full extent of the problem, like Hillary Clinton on MSNBC, won’t work. Attempting to re-arrange the deck chairs with new leadership has proven not to work. The Department of Defense handling of Veterans Affairs is the answer. “Honorable Discharge” should no longer mean alienation from the military in a separate Department. Our Veterans should be “emeritus” members and entitled to continue as part of the the military family. Our veterans deserve the best our nation can offer, so let’s try a solution which will work.
God Bless America, Bill Connor
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Connor of Orangeburg SC is a decorated 25 year Army and combat veteran. He is an expert in counterinsurgency combat. Connor spent 12 years (1990 – 2002) of full time service as an Airborne Ranger, holding various commands such as Ranger Company Commander and General’s Aide. Connor recently made the Colonel’s List and will soon take the official rank as full bird Colonel. Since leaving full time service, Connor has continued to serve in the National Guard (2003 – 2008) and has served in the Army Reserve 2008 – present.
Connor volunteered for combat duty in Afghanistan where he served as Senior US Advisor in Helmand Province and American military liaison to British forces in Afghanistan. For his service during deployment, Connor was awarded the Bronze Star. He currently is Director of the Army’s Command and General Staff College (ILE) in S.C., and is a member of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team.
Connor, along with partner W. Thomas Smith Jr. founded National Defense Consultants LLC, a partnership providing clients with military analysis ranging from geostrategy to special operations; counterterrorism; ground, Naval, and air combat; military leadership and military law. Connor is also the author of the book “Articles from War”
Connor is a graduate of The Citadel and the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Law where he earned a Juris Doctorate degree. He is an attorney and Law Partner for “Horger and Connor, LLC where he has earned an “AV Preeminent” rating, the highest peer evaluation rating of ethics and ability for an attorney practicing law in the United States.
Connor is a former candidate for the US Senate, (2014) as well as having run for S.C. Lieutenant Governor (making the runoff election in the Republican primary 2010.) Connor also served as National Security Advisor for presidential candidate and GOP nominee runner-up Rick Santorum, and currently serves as National Director for the Ted Cruz for President military coalition – Veterans for Cruz.
Connor formerly served as GOP Chairman for South Carolina’s sixth district and Chairman of the Board of Orangeburg Christian Academy.
Connor has been a contributing author for The South Carolina Conservative Dot Com since 2012.