COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Do veterans deserve to be ignored?

News coverage about American veterans with post-combat trauma is constant. Mental disorders, drug and alcohol addiction have evolved into suicides, as recently reported about the young Marine who shot himself on a firing range in Oceanside because of despondency.

Nearly as serious are the dismal reports about access to medical care at Veterans Affairs hospitals — cases where victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries wait months for treatment, leading to drug addiction or worse. The veterans who serve our country at great risk to life and limb deserve better.

President Obama took action by appointing a new secretary of Veterans Affairs when Eric Shinseki stepped down after disgraceful treatment of veterans was publicized. The 330,000-person federal agency is under strict surveillance by the new director, Robert McDonald. Firings will occur for neglect of duty after internal investigations are complete and a judge approves each dismissal.

What are these shameful lapses that denied adequate care for 23 million veterans? Most reports are concerned with the logjam at the VA hospitals and unreasonable delay in disbursement of qualified monetary benefits that often leave desperate vets and their families without support.

These are not isolated oversights. They occur frequently to hundreds of needy military. The maze of sprawling departmental websites fails to adequately serve 22 million vets.

The trigger to the shakeup in Veterans Affairs began last spring. A whistleblower reported that dozens of vets may have died from delays while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital. The inspector general reported 40 deaths and a pattern of manipulating waiting lists, creating chronic delays in treatment. This is unacceptable.

I was a veteran from late in World War II, mostly serving in an occupation army overseas. I was not really at risk except for some occasional rebel uprisings. However, when I returned home, I was treated royally.

Most beneficial was the GI Bill of Rights that gave me a completely free university education. Note: that was free at the University of California. I could have gone to Stanford, Harvard or Dartmouth free, but I chose to stay close to home base. The agency then known as the Veterans Administration knew how to take of its kind in the last half of the last century.

I never took advantage of free medical services at a VA hospital. Many of my friends did, and complained only of long lines in a waiting room, not neglect of treatment.

The Korean War is sometimes referred to as the Forgotten War because we lost and are still technically at war with North Korea 60 years later. A treaty never was signed. The vets generally received the same benefits as World War II vets, but never were received as returning heroes.

I won’t even try to describe how Vietnam vets were treated by an angry public that spent most of those tragic war years protesting, and then had to swallow another defeat. It was un-American to lose.

We see examples of neglected Vietnam veterans in the census of homeless on San Diego streets today. It is the private charities and churches that are trying to help.

The San Diego City Council recently determined in its sluggish wisdom that the city should do more for the homeless population. Last year’s annual head count of homeless showed a 12 percent decrease. Many of those living on the street are vets.

Now we are again in a hopeless battle against terrorism. What have we won in the Middle East? Not much except more hatred by Muslim nations and a safe supply of oil.

Is that enough to give proper care for the returning warriors who risked their life and limbs for their country’s misguided commitment? Military fanfare has not greeted their return from the Middle East. At the very least, we should take care of their wounds and mental disorders from combat stress in a timely manner.


Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com.

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Lisa Elkins 12:00am July 1, 2015

I very dear friend of mine who is a veteran, fell and broke his neck 5 months ago. He was taken to a Sharp hospital, put in a neck brace then discharged with orders to be seen right away by a doctor at the VA. Despite his continued efforts, he has been unable to get an appointment with anyone at the VA hospital. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you, Lisa