Friday, May 23, 2014

John McCain's Sincere and Straightforward Remarks Concerning Memorial Day, the VA Scandal and President Obama .... And a Personal Note About My Old Friend "Ratz"

One of my good friends from college was Dick Ratzlaff.

Dick grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota where he played high school basketball. Upon graduation he attended and graduated from the University of Nebraska's Navy ROTC program. He then became a Navy pilot and was shot down in Vietnam. Dick was a POW for almost seven years from March 21, 1966 until his release on February 12, 1975.

I was walking through Chicago's O'Hare Airport in the spring of 1975 and heard someone call my name. It was Dick and he was returning from a visit to the White House. Dick was the same old Dick to me, but of course he wasn't. We saw each other only a few times after that and talked on the phone a few more times as well.

Dick was awarded the Silver Star, went to law school and served as a JAG lawyer in the Navy until 1980. He died in 1981 from an illness first contracted and then left untreated for those long years while he was a POW in the "Hanoi Hilton."

Like Dick, Senator John McCain has served his country well, was a Navy pilot and was a long time POW --- almost as long in captivity as my friend "Ratz." I don't know Senator McCain, but I always think of Dick when the good Senator comments on military matters.

I know Ratz would agree with what Mr. McCain has to say in The Scandal That Shadows Memorial Day. The editorial is subtitled 'The government has failed in its responsibility to veterans. Where is the administration's sense of urgency?' Now let's see what Senator McCain has to say about all this:

"Memorial Day is a sacred observance in America's democracy—the day that the nation honors and thanks those who have worn the uniform of the United States and have served and sacrificed in its defense. We all love our country and the values it embodies. But there is no greater demonstration of that love in a democracy than those who freely bear arms and head into harm's way, willing to lay down their lives for the sake of their fellow citizens. For the citizens on whose behalf this sacrifice is made, there is no greater responsibility than to care for those who have returned from the fight, to help them bind up their wounds and carry on.

It is therefore the height of shame and tragedy that on this Memorial Day the nation is seized with the unfolding scandal of the government's failure to meet its highest responsibility to veterans and wounded warriors. At least 26 Department of Veterans Affairs health-care facilities are under investigation for chronic mismanagement, deceitful and self-serving behavior, and inadequate provision of care.

Whistleblowers allege that these and other failures at VA facilities may have led to the deaths of some 40 veterans. Simply put, America's veterans are losing confidence in the one government agency that exists solely to care for them.

This is more than a government failure. It is a violation of a solemn vow. And the buck stops with the president of the United States.
Department of Veteran Affairs headquarters in Washington Reuters

Unfortunately, as this scandal at the VA escalated for nearly two months, President Obama was nowhere to be seen. There were expressions of anger through presidential proxies, but nothing from the commander in chief himself. And when the president finally did speak about the crisis on Wednesday, there was only a recitation of talking points, expressions of confidence in the system, without a real sense of emotion and urgency.

A VA official resigned shortly before his planned retirement, and a White House staffer with no relevant VA or military experience was tapped to look into the crisis. But no meaningful action has been taken.

The sad fact is that the same charges then-Sen. Obama levied against his predecessor's stewardship of the VA in 2008—that it was "an outrage," "a betrayal," that "we are all dishonored"—are no less true today, just as Mr. Obama's vaunted campaign promises to reform the VA system had few results. The VA is arguably in worse shape more than five years into his presidency than when Mr. Obama took office. Yet even today, the president seems to be treating this as a political problem to be managed, not a national crisis to be solved.

The VA undoubtedly has many committed, talented employees who do valuable, lifesaving work every day. But it is also undeniable that the VA has many serious, long-standing problems. On behalf of Arizona veterans, as well as whistleblowing doctors and nurses, my office has handled some 2,000 cases since January 2013 alone, helping veterans to navigate the sometimes soul-crushing Veterans Affairs bureaucracy. But the allegations being discussed today, some of which were reportedly known to administration officials for many years, go well beyond what we have seen in the past.

What is needed now is real action and systemic reform of the VA. As a first step, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki —a career soldier, a Vietnam combat veteran and a man whose career of service I have long admired—needs to carefully consider whether the best thing he can do now to help restore the nation's confidence in the agency he leads is to stand down from his post.

More broadly, Sens. Richard Burr, Tom Coburn and I are working on legislation that would strengthen the ability of VA administrators to hire and fire those charged with providing care and, most important, give far greater flexibility to veterans to get the care they need and deserve, where and when they want it, whether in the VA system or not.

Veterans have earned the right to choose where and when they get their medical care, and it is our responsibility to afford them this option. Continuing to require that they rely on a system riddled with dysfunction, while waiting for broader reform, is patently unacceptable.

As Americans gather this weekend for Memorial Day picnics and parades, in cemeteries all across the country a bugler will sound "Taps" to remind us of the sacrifices that the holiday is intended to commemorate. As we do, let us all remember Abraham Lincoln's challenge to the country, an axiom that describes the VA's solemn obligation today, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."

Today, the president, our nation and government, are failing that test. We must all do better tomorrow—much better."

Summing Up

Our veterans deserve the treatment and medical care from our country that the North Vietnamese didn't provide to my old friend Dick, aka Ratz.

There's no excuse for this crap coming from too many of the Washington politicians today, including President Obama.

So here's what I say --- gut up and do the right thing, Mr. President.

You wanted the job of Commander-in-chief and now you have it.

So try doing something nonpolitical for a change and just do what's right.

Take good care of our veterans or give them enough money so they can take good care of themselves.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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