Our Opinion: Memorial Day
This Memorial Day is clouded by the apparent failure of the Veterans Administration to assure that veterans receive adequate health care in a timely fashion, a failure compounded by an alleged cover-up of the deaths that may have resulted in Phoenix and perhaps elsewhere because of this lack of care. This is the latest example of how the nation has let down those it sends abroad to fight in its name. Men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan found that the elected officials who sent them overseas were not remotely prepared to deal with their physical and psychological ills when they returned. Advances in medicine mean that more soldiers survive grievous injuries than in past wars but those injuries will often require a lifetime of costly care. Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome left many returning veterans who otherwise appeared healthy unable to function at work or at home, and treatment for their private agony was slow in coming -- too slow for the many who succumbed to suicide.
In Phoenix, it is alleged that VA officials falsified data to disguise the long wait times veterans confronted when in need of medical assistance. Similar allegations have emerged at 26 other medical facilities across the nation. It's bad enough that veterans suffering from serious maladies were made to wait for treatment. It's doubly shameful that the response of bureaucrats to this situation was to hide it from view.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki promises to get to the bottom of what happened in Phoenix and elsewhere, but his presence is more of a distraction at this point. President Obama, who promised coming into office that he would correct the problems in veterans' care that he inherited, said last week that participation in the veterans heath care system has increased while the backlog of cases has been reduced. That said, the sorry situation in Phoenix and elsewhere indicates that progress has not been sufficient.
The war in Afghanistan, America's longest, is winding down, which is cause for celebration this Memorial Day. It is also cause to remember the roughly 2,100 U.S. soldiers killed there since the war began in the shadow of the attacks on September 11, 2001. More than 19,000 have been wounded in action in Afghanistan, and they, as well as those who escaped injury but will need regular care, need a Veterans Administration worthy of their service. As of now, they don't have one.