Will anyone be willing to serve?
"Unless we take care of today's Veterans, their DNA will not step-up and serve." This profound statement was made by Colonel Patrick Guinee, Wing Commander of the Vermont Air National Guard, in his keynote address last September at the 2015 Vermont Wounded Warrior Golf Tournament Banquet held in Manchester.
Colonel Alan Faxon, USMC (ret.) and C.O.O. at the Vermont Veterans Home, mirrored what Col. Guinee stated, by informing me of a warning attributed to President George Washington, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."
After reading Jerry Moran and Jeff Miller's piece in the January 14, 2016 Wall Street Journal, one wonders if there will be a future generation to serve in our nation's armed forces. The authors investigated the VA and what has transpired within the last 16 months, since the greatest scandal ever was uncovered at the Administration's hospitals. Their discoveries were disheartening.
In 2014, it was revealed that, at over 110 VA hospitals, long wait lists were being masked by the executives and staff at the facilities. It turns out that the wait lists are even greater today; the only consolation is that the lists are not being altered.
When he was appointed to take over the leadership of the VA, and with the support from Senator Bernie Sanders, former chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Robert McDonald was to "clean up" the agency. The WSJ piece noted, "A year and half after vowing to 'transform' the agency, the VA's leadership has shown little progress." Senator Sanders has since moved on.
And it is no wonder that McDonald is having an awful time in making corrections to an agency that has been rocked with so much scandal – only 3 employees were let go and they were not senior executives (one senior leader was fired) in part due to the "fire-wall" created over the years by the employee's union and Congress.
In 2014, Congress voted to spend close to $20 billion to address the problems – the huge sum failed to do so. According to Moran and Miller, over 41,000 positions for doctors, nurses, and other professionals are still unfilled. Could it be that the Veterans Administration's tarnished reputation is detrimental in attracting health care professionals?
The good news is that Vermont's only VA hospital in White River Junction is excelling. So much so that it is now headed up by Al Montoya, who took over in December 2015 from Deborah Amdur who was transferred to Phoenix, Ariz., to correct the negligence and criminal performance that had taken place at the 3,000-employee VA facility.
Another benefit of WRJ's 74-bed acute care VA medical center and its seven outpatient clinics is that it has partnered with Dartmouth Hospital and Medical School as well as with the University of Vermont Medical Center. Indeed, our state's Veterans are so fortunate to have these services.
In addition to the VA medical facilities, there is the Vermont Veterans' Home in Bennington. This 129-year old 131-bed facility continues to offer the highest care to Vermont Veterans and their spouses – year round.
Shortly, our legislators will be taking up the funding for the Vermont Veterans' Home. In doing so, all 180 of them should take note of what is happening nationally in the care of our Veterans and not allow it to spill over into Vermont. Just because those in Washington, DC have moved on from the recent scandal, Montpelier should continue to do what is right. This is especially important. Historically, Vermont has given a high percent of its daughters and sons to the military.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.
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