Scandal is a popular television show demonstrating the power of a woman named Olivia Pope; she has the reputation of fixing problems. Many of us are hooked on this show and can't wait to see the next shocking episode. But, we have our own serious scandal right in our own backyards; the VA scandal. By now, most of us have heard or read about our "forgotten or lost" veterans; this neglect has caused several tragic deaths. Real life scandals need real life fixing. One report, out of Phoenix, Arizona, states close to 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and were never placed on a wait list at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The numbers out of Phoenix are striking, but sadly not uncommon and certainly not a new phenomenon. Investigations have uncovered a systemic practice of veteran medical appointment manipulation; causing hundreds of veterans to fall through the cracks. VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has stated the office is investigating alleged misconduct at 26 VA facilities around the country, including a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for care and staff rigged record-keeping to cover up long wait times. The integrity of the Veterans Administration is in question and affects the lives of our heroes and the people dedicated to making their lives better.
The seriousness of the situation has caught the attention of President Obama, who has not minced words as he vowed to fix this crisis. "If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it. Period," President Obama said during a press conference at the White House.
The president has vowed to hold accountable the people responsible for such actions and this past Friday, Eric K. Shinseki, Veterans Affairs Secretary resigned. Mr. Shinseki apologized for the scandal and the cover ups in an agency that he presided over for more than five years. President Obama is now searching for a replacement for one of his longest serving and most trusted Cabinet officials. Obama appointed Sloan D. Gibson, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to take over the VA until a new secretary is named.
The problems with the VA have existed for decades prior to the current administration; they must be attacked beyond lip service to our heroes. In every challenge there are also opportunities that could make a tremendous impact. During this crisis I believe the VA must give credence to real public and private partnerships. There are great organizations like New Directions for Veterans who partner with the VA, and we must continue to convene similar organizations of impressive Veteran-centric organizations that have post 9/11 constituents, as well as serve older Veterans.
For many years the VA has operated from an old paradigm and that system has not worked. The internal resources within VA facilities need to be reviewed and increased to employ more doctors and implement a system to improve management; new leadership is necessary. This is also the moment to bring on agencies and engage with veterans who bring a new and young energy to the table. The VA and many non-government agencies have to enter the 21st Century in its approach to solving this systematic issue and supporting our returning Veterans. They are dealing with a host of invisible wounds such as PTSD, suicide, substance abuse, and other mental health challenges.
One great example of how the VA can continue to work better with nonprofits is through the current Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program. This program is a great way to involve the passion and mission focus of the nonprofit sector with VA resources and oversight. An increase from its current funding level would have a tremendous impact. This program has been great to prevent Veterans from becoming homeless by providing temporary services in rapid rehousing, and housing stability.
However, the VA must not stop there; somehow we must find a way to merge new resources to help Veterans get job training and support for higher education, especially with the "New Generation" of returning Veterans. Currently, there is the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP), which is the only federal program providing employment assistance to homeless Veterans. Those resources are limited and need to be expanded beyond just working with homeless Veterans. We also need to create new resources to assist with securing job opportunities that help returning vets provide for their families.
Thousands of veterans and veteran advocacy groups like IAVA are speaking out against the travesty of healthcare created by the system. This is a prominent and defining moment in our history of taking care of Veterans. We've had years of neglect, controversy, and now a big scandal coming out of Phoenix. The VA can regain the trust of our nation's heroes by partnering with local nonprofits, and engaging the right leadership to pick up the broken pieces. Let's do better by our veterans and leave the scandal to Olivia Pope and her gladiators.